E. M. Forster

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What are the main themes in E. M. Forster's novel Howard's End?

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The most famous words from Howard's End are "only connect," and fittingly so, for the novel emphasizes the importance of connection between people. Margaret, for example, finds happiness marrying Mr. Wilcox, and in doing so, she connects the life of feeling represented by the Schlegels with the hard practicality of the businesslike Wilcoxes. As she says,

Our business . . . is not to contrast the two [families], but to reconcile them.

The fate of an English country home, such as Howard's End, and all that such a home represents of the traditional English way of life, is also an important theme of the novel. At heart, people like the Schlegels feel uprooted, their lives upended by the changes wrought by modernity. The relentless pace of modern life is represented by their apartment—the home that has been theirs for many years—being torn down in favor of building a block of bigger, more modern flats. In marrying Wilcox, therefore, Margaret seeks and finds a site of stability and protection. Significantly, she also "inherits" through marriage the home that Mrs. Wilcox wanted to will her. Margaret understands the spiritual significance of Howard's End and is able to bring the rootless Helen and Leonard into a connection with the English past through planning to will their child the home—a plan which promises to preserve the home and all it represents.

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The epigraph to Howards Ends ("Only Connect") contains the major theme of the novel: the power and the difficulty of sustaining connections among humans. Forster explores the themes of class conflict, of human connections and relationships, of spiritual and material lives and of the future of England in the twentieth century in the face of fast social changes. The novel opposes the values of the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels and, because of this opposition, the connections between the members of the two families prove difficult to maintain. The Wilcoxes represent social conventions, materialism and a business-like attitude to life while the Schlegels stand for idealism, humanism and the pursue of one's personal realization in spite of social pressure and demands. In spite of the conflicts that oppose the two families throughout the novel, at the end both the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels live at Howards End. If we take Howards End to be a symbol for England, this may hint to a reconciliation of the two sets of values and Forster's aspiration to a society devoid of class conflicts.

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