E. M. Forster

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E. M. Forster World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Critics generally agree that Forster’s finest achievements were his novels, in which plot is overshadowed by the conflict of ideas and development of character. Forster achieves objectivity in many of his novels by utilizing the figure of the outsider as narrator. His narrative style is straightforward, with events progressing in logical order. Much of Forster’s work is a study of personal relationships. Personal emotion is elevated above social convention in most of his novels, and Forster utilizes the recurring theme of society’s oppression of the individual’s characteristically generous and sensitive inclinations. The heart/conscience conflict, as illustrated in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), is a major concern in many of Forster’s works. He consistently expresses opposition to racism and prejudice among individuals.

A Passage to India is generally considered to be Forster’s artistic masterpiece; it was his last novel. This work is a sympathetic rendering of the assumption that, once human beings are prisoners of mythology, it is very difficult to change their thinking. They must transcend the elements of culture that imprison them in order to reach out to humanity. The title of Forster’s novel comes from Walt Whitman’s poem but is its thematic antithesis. Whitman envisions the total unity and spiritual connections of all people, and Forster suggests that this is not possible. As a humanistic novel, A Passage to India illustrates the indifference of nature and humanity’s compulsion toward order: “The inarticulate world is closer at hand and readier to resume control as soon as men are tired.”

His subsequent works took the form of literary criticism, general essays, and biography. Perhaps his most well-known and influential volume of nonfiction is Aspects of the Novel. Forster posits a theory of characterization coupled with a “pattern and rhythm” for the novel. He suggests that characters in a novel are either round, able to surprise the audience, or flat, stereotypes or caricatures.

Many of Forster’s works use music and art as basic tools for communicating meaning. It was his belief that music is the deepest of the arts and that music, more so than language, “would civilize the barbarian.” In A Room with a View, Reverend Arthur Beebe understands the nature of Lucy Honeychurch by the way that she plays Beethoven. He is aware of the depths of her passion and observes that, if she lived the way she plays, her life would truly be exciting. A passage in Howards End explores the reaction of the audience to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and ironically makes clear the ineffability of a musical experience. A sensitive or intuitive person might have insights into realities communicated via the medium of music, since word symbols or language is an inadequate tool for expressing life. Music has a way of transcending and displays an integrating power. It plays a powerful and evocative tool in five of...

(The entire section is 3,995 words.)