Because of Forster’s open use of homosexuality, his choice of a main character is especially important for this book’s success. Forster deliberately avoids the sensitive, cultured intellectuals of King’s and Trinity colleges. Maurice Hall, instead, is a very ordinary boy with a rather second-rate mind, especially during his school and university days. He knows almost nothing about serious art and music. He loves his family and is complacent about following his father’s path in business and society. It is not until after Clive Durham speaks openly of his own feelings that Maurice even suspects that he might have homosexual inclinations. Indeed, he thinks very little unless challenged by Clive or his own experiences. Maurice discovers that even a short vacation at home returns his mind to its usual stagnant muddle. In creating this main character, Forster attempts to emphasize an Everyman quality about Maurice’s conflict.
By the conclusion, Maurice Hall’s education has produced a very different person: A successful broker, possessed of the self-knowledge he has so painfully gained, Maurice can act with courage and clarity of mind to preserve his happiness. He instinctively recognizes and seizes the truth and beauty of his new relationship with Alec when he experiences it. Still, Forster’s narrator spends too much time describing how Maurice feels rather than letting Maurice’s actions or words reveal him. The result is that the reader never becomes very involved with Maurice. Sympathetic understanding is the greatest emotion evoked by his predicament. The narrator’s objective distancing is almost too great. In view of the problems of emotional objectivity Forster must have had in writing a novel on homosexuality, it might be unrealistic to expect the richly humorous ironies usually presented by Forster’s narrators.
This distancing problem posed by the characterization of Maurice is rather crucial; there is no other character with whom the reader can identify. Clive Durham and Alec Scudder serve to symbolize ideas or points of view and to advance Maurice’s development. Durham, the classical book lover, embodies the denial of the flesh; he embraces the Platonic ideal of love of heart and mind only. Even after rejecting his earlier homosexuality, Clive continues this attitude in his marriage. The futility of his life is shown in his choice of politics, an alliance with society that leaves him ashamed of his own life and defending the conventions of a dying class on his decaying estate. While Clive and Maurice’s relationship is largely confined to inside locales, Alec Scudder, in contrast, represents the vital life force of nature; he is an instinctive man who dares to roam freely and satisfies the claims of his body as a natural good. He is associated with the outdoors, the archetypal greenwoods of Great Britain’s prehistory and legend, places untouched by society’s corrupting values and institutions. Forster makes Scudder a gamekeeper, with the shining brown eyes of wild animals, a combination D. H. Lawrence was later to make famous. Since Scudder has already decided to emigrate to the New World, he is ready to leave society and civilization behind him when Maurice appears. Scudder and Maurice can together move into the darkness that symbolizes the fecund, flowering mysteries of love and nature.
Maurice Hall, a healthy and handsome, though indifferent, student (at Sunnington and later at Cambridge) who becomes a successful London stockbroker. Conventional, respectable, and suburban, imaginatively slow and intellectually muddled, he begins in a state of vague sexual uneasiness and, by means of his largely platonic relationship with Clive Durham and a fully consummated relationship with Alec Scudder, develops a clear recognition and acceptance of his own homosexuality. Having fought his way to this understanding of his essential nature, he defies class, family, and sexual constraints to establish a...
(The entire section is 2,445 words.)