The Other Side of the Hedge

by E. M. Forster

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

The story opens with the narrator resting by the side of a seemingly endless road. Although others on the road jeer him for stopping his walk, and the energetic Miss Eliza Dimbleby exhorts him to persevere, he subsequently collapses and thinks of his brother, who had collapsed a year or so earlier after wasting his breath on singing and his strength helping others. The narrator lies prostrate from exhaustion until a faint breath of air from a thick hedge alongside the road revives him. After glancing around to ensure that he is unobserved, he musters his remaining strength and fights through the dead branches of the hedge, although he has no idea what he might find on the other side. Just as he feels he might die from his exertion, he falls through the undergrowth into a moat. He nearly drowns but is rescued by a man who becomes his guide to the world on the other side of the hedge.

This guide, who looks fifty or sixty years old but has the voice of an eighteen-year-old boy, shows the narrator through the park, which is of indeterminate size but of definite beauty. Unlike the dusty and dry road, the park teems with vitality and is filled with images of pastoral happiness: flowers covering the green hedge, fish swimming in the moat, people singing and working contentedly in the fields. The narrator, however, is disenchanted to learn that the residents of this paradise have no need for science or machines. After arguing that a society must progress or else it is worthless, he states his intention to leave this world—beautiful as it may be—to return to the competition of the road. Before he can leave, his guide shows him two gates. The first opens outward and is made of ivory: It is the gate through which earliest humanity walked when first taken with the idea of leaving the paradise to explore the outer world.

As the narrator and his guide walk away from this gate, the narrator believes he sees Miss Dimbleby with her feet in a fountain. Although his guide confirms that it is she, the narrator rejects the sight as an impossibility because her earnest demeanor would never allow such laziness. He then asks to leave the park immediately. His guide reluctantly shows him a second gate, made of half-transparent horn and opening in toward the park. Through its translucency, the narrator can see the dusty, dreary road flanked by dead hedges that he left earlier. When he hesitates, a man passes by with a can of liquid. Suddenly seized by an uncontrollable thirst, the narrator snatches the can and drinks from it. He starts to lose consciousness but hears his guide say that this second gate is the one through which all that is left of humanity will pass on its return to the paradise. The man whose drink he has taken catches the narrator as he collapses. Slipping into a deep sleep, the narrator realizes that he now lies in his brother’s arms.

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