Sunday, February 05, 2006

 

"There would after all be a future"

The ending of Howards End is, in a way, a traditional, novelistic, happily-ever-after ending. It is not, however, your typical happy ending with husband, wife and children. It’s true that there are the usual elements of a husband, mother and child; but the husband is not the mother’s husband and the child is born out of wedlock, a scandal at that time. The individual characters’ stories are hardly happy ones and do not end happily. But Forster’s real story ends on a very hopeful, inspiring note: “there would after all be a future, with laughter and the voices of children” (255).

In the early 20th century people were in transition to the modern era, from the known to the unknown, the “seen” to the “unseen.” Global changes in economies and governments worried many that their worlds would be shattered in pieces. Forster nevertheless remained convinced that a better, fairer world was possible. Indeed, the very last sentence of the novel sums up Forster’s primary message that in the end everything will be more plentiful and successful than ever: “The big meadow! We’ve seen to the very end, and it’ll be such a crop of hay as never!” (293) Thus, although the endings of the personal stories of the characters are anything but happy, the larger story for which the individual characters are merely metaphors, is prophetic and optimistic. This is Forster’s happy ending.

The Wilcox family, particularly Henry, represents the new and aggressive upper-middle class not particularly concerned with the poor and other problems of the society not directly connected to them. In the end Henry grows more spiritual and his “fortress gave way” (285). When he “could bear no one but his wife, he shambled up to Margaret and asked her to do what she could with him” (285). This demonstrates Forster’s faith that there is some hope for the likes of Henry to realize eventually that money and business are not the only meaningful matters in life.

The Schlegel sisters, by contrast, symbolize an enlightened upper class who would be the instrument of change in the world. Helen, though flighty and impractical, is the most idealistic character in the whole novel. Her idealism is tempered by her sister Margaret’s pragmatism. Margaret “picked up the pieces, and made us a home” in a time of chaos (289). Forster’s hope was that an enlightened upper class, inspired by a pragmatic idealism, would uplift the poor and bridge the gulf between rich and poor so that, in the end, the meek – rich or poor – could “inherit the earth.”

Leonard, representing the poor working class, would not himself inherit anything, unfortunately. His untimely “end” was the culmination of a series of misfortunes to befall him, and there never was a silver lining for Leonard. The child he conceived with Helen, however, stood to inherit Howard’s End. Leonard and Helen each paid a high price for a “great chance that a child would be born into the world, to take the great chances of beauty and adventure that the world offers” (282). Leonard lost his life, and Helen lost her place in society. But in the greater story there is hope. Hope that the classes would merge and that class distinctions would be erased. Leonard’s and Helen’s child represents this union of rich and poor and a hopeful future.

In the end the three families – the Wilcoxes, Schlegels and Basts – are brought together under one roof, united and unified by a common problem. They didn’t necessarily change to suit each other, but at least they learned to appreciate one another for their differences. “They were building up a new life, obscure, yet gilded with tranquility” (287). The classes, too, in their struggle for a place under the sun, would also “be melted down, all over the world” (290).

In this way, Howard’s End is a very good example of a novel that “‘build[s]’ toward closure, but … [is not] fully or finally governed by it” (Miller). Even though there is no happy ending for the individual characters, there is some measure of closure for the major characters who are brought together at Howard’s End. But as Miller argues, the closure is not complete. It is far from complete and there is great uncertainty about their futures. For example, what will happen to Henry, Margaret, Helen and her child? Will Margaret outlive Henry and inherit Howard’s End? Will Helen’s child inherit Howard’s End after all?

Just as there is a happier ending at the deeper level of Forster’s story of class struggle and redemption, there is also greater closure. Forster foresees a promising future of reconciliation between rich and poor. This happy ending thus brings some closure to the more pessimistic state of affairs that exists throughout the novel. Just as with the individual characters, however, that closure is beset by uncertainties. There is no explicit promise and conclusion. The most promising and hopeful ending, that of a child inheriting Howard’s End – of the meek inheriting the earth – is possible, even foreseeable. But it is not guaranteed.

Comments:
Elena
I agree with your notion that the ending of the novel is optimistic event though the endings for the some of the individual characters are not happy ones. This of course makes us, the readers, question if this is really such a happy ending after all. I found your quote and ideas from Miller very interesting in that good novels should give us closure and in the case of Howard's End-the closure was not entirely "complete". Your thoughts on the novel's ending being complete or not is very intriging. Your central idea of the happy ending being in the future for Howard's End and Helen's baby is something that I didn't think about before but now I see how much that makes sense. You had some good, clear ideas. Well done.
 
For me, one of the most interesting things to analyze and critique about this novel is the ending. Without a close reading of the novel, the ending really seems to be "happy" and adequate. I'm glad that you bring in Miller's claims that while Howards End builds toward closure, it may not really achieve it. I am not a history buff, but I might surmise that the complicated issues of class, nationalism, and imperialism were still being actively shaped and defined at the time Forster was writing this novel. The ending doesn't wrap up issues in neat little packages (refer to Jane Eyre) but it does open up discussion about larger issues, allowing them to be seen in different ways.


Forster explores the issues of cosmopolitism and at the same time, keeping a connection with one's family and culture in his resolution. Does anyone else have any comments about these two things and the ending? Does Howards End (the physical place) stand for both, and is that possible/satisfying to readers?
 
“Thus, although the endings of the personal stories of the characters are anything but happy, the larger story for which the individual characters are merely metaphors, is prophetic and optimistic” –This is I believe the crux of the argument about the ending of Howard’s End. I both agree and disagree with this statement. On one hand, I think there is a level of happiness and tranquility that is achieved by the characters at the end of the novel. However, especially with these characters, tranquility is not necessarily the highest value for them. Likewise, the end of the story is optimistic, stating that people can get away from that which hinders them from connecting and “only connect”. However, that is a striking condemnation of cosmopolitanism, and in a way, of London and England itself, because it means that such connection cannot happen within the confines of that city.
 
Elena
I like your reading of the ending of the novel as optimisitic for the larger society as a whole. Your reading allows for the reader to view the novel as more of a positive change in the way the social classes relate to one another, rather than a strict reading about the individual characters. I liked the way you pointed out that the ending was not the traditional happy ending of novels and that there was not complete closure for all the characters, yet I still felt it gave closure for all the characters in the basic sense. I really appreciated your thought that Helen's baby represented the happy ending, in the representation of a future for Howards End and society as a whole. Your inclusion of Miller's quotes added an interesting view about the ending.
 
I agree with what Mike is getting at in his comment that the ending is in a way a condemnation of cospomolitanism, and the fact that this idea of "connecting" cannot happen within the city limits. To me, this is very confusing because it seems as though Forster is claiming that in order to connect social classes, men and women, rich and poor, one has to step outside the "city limits" so to say, and make some sort of escape. In order to create this so-called happy ending, notice how none of the characters actively participate in society. Henry is ill, Margaret is his caretaker, and Helen is an outcast. The characters have isolated themselves at Howard's End, and while they may have connected socioeconomically within themselves, have they really connected to society as a whole? Would this "happy" ending be different if they were somehow forced to live in London? Is Forster implying that real socioeconomic connection cannot happen? Or am i just confusing myself....
 
Elena, I like your comparison and contrast of the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels. I found the relationship between each of the three families to be very interesting. I think that the problems associated with personal relationships and conflicting social values are continuous concerns in the novel. The debate over priorities constitutes a principal topic in this novel: civilized living, art, a conversation among friends collides with the business side of life, the friction nurtured by distrust. However, I also believe that the differences between the male Wilcoxes and the female Schlegels attract as well as distract them from one another. Love and steadiness, according to Forster, balance both strain and misunderstanding. Thus, in the end, Margaret Schlegel succeeds in bridging the mistrust that divides the men and women. She inherits Howards End, Forster's symbol of human dignity and endurance.
 
I agree that the novel should be looked at as having a larger theme that may be happier than the actual story that is told. I think Forster does have hope about the future, and the possibility of mixing the classes together. However, I think Forster is showing the tremendous gaps that have to be filled in order for a successful blend of the groups. Several of the characters that represented ideas, such as Mrs. Wilcox (the supernatural, earthy), Leonard (the poor, ambitious), and Charles (chauvenistic, animalistic) died and are extremely different from one another. I think Forster was showing that those who have the ideas for reforms and the ability to improve themselves will do so, while those that represent the clashes in the society show us how much work needs to be done and are often sacrificed to show the reader how much change needs to occur for the ideals to be realized.
 
Elena,
Nicely done. I appreciate your integration of Miller's critique of the ending of the novel. I have to agree with Krista's comments about the integration of class. I am not sure that there is indeed an indicator of a "promising future of reconciliation between the rich and the poor." Perhaps it it the term "reconciliaton" that bothers me. The classes are certainly in co-existence at the end of the novel, but I don't think it is necessarily a happy co-existence. There is sacrifice. Compromise. And, as you point out--a lack of closure. I think this is the most important part--Forster's illustration and acute characterization of the social climate of a post-Victorian world and its problems. Perhaps an ending doesn't have to be happy or sad--or even what we would typically identify as an ending--if the novel serves to illuminate a social issue.
 
I like how Elena viewed the ending of the story in a positive light. I was personally disturbed by the ending because there seemed to be so many questions left unanswered. I wanted to know, with certainty, what would happen to Henry and Margaret. Would Henry die and Margaret inherit Howard’s End or would Helen and Leonard’s child inherit it? But, I particularly enjoyed the way in which Elena explained that the happy ending as not being immediate, but that it would be experienced in the future of Howard’s End. Aside from the obvious changes in the characters, nothing drastic changed in the ending. The changes that allowed this novel to have a happy ending were to be experienced years after the novel, in the real world that deals with the issues experienced in the novel.

Like Lisa, I am not a history buff, but it is nice to be able to read Howard’s End and enjoy it at face value, whether or not one is happy with the incomplete ending, but it is more enjoyable to read a novel that can be taken as an pleasurable story but can also be viewed as a historical interpretation based on a larger scale that relates to deeper issues such as those of imperialism, nationalism and social classes.
 
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