Student Question

What type of character is Howard Belsey in Zadie Smith's "On Beauty" and what leads to his fall?

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Integral to the character of Howard Belsey and to his fall from grace is his self-belief that he is as passé as his projector. From this, you might say that Howard is the Failure type of character. He compares himself to and equates himself with outmoded forms of technology, even while Smith J. Miller offers, in his Northern England slur, to teach him the latest technology, "pah-point. Ah could show you." The narrator uses third person point-of-view to describe Howard's comparison of himself to passé technology:

The projector was grey and orange--the colours of the future thirty years ago--and, like all obsolete technology, elicited an involuntary sympathy from Howard. He was not modern any more either.

Howard's fall depended upon his jealousy of Monty Kipps and his own inability to achieve his expectations for his academic career: the more an academic publishes, the greater their career opportunities. Since Howard felt like obsolete technology; since students "shopped" and dropped his class; since Kipps published on Rembrandt first; since Howard told himself, with a shake of his head, that he "was beyond the point of learning new tricks," Howard pushed himself in despairing depression to initiate his own fall by engaging in extramarital affairs with Claire and with Victoria.

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