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The Importance Of Knowing One's Self In E.M. Forster's Howard's End

3155 words - 13 pages

Do the characters of "Howards End" understand the importance of `knowing oneself'?

It was Rose Macauley who wrote in The Writings of E. M. Forster- Howards End (1938) that one meaning of the novel might be "about the importance of knowing oneself, of learning to say "I."." Those that can say "I" are those who can also see the `unseen' and accept the `inner'. Those that cannot only see the `seen' and the `outer'. The novel argues that a lack of knowing oneself leads to life's ills and no sense of personal responsibility for your actions. Mr Wilcox is the leading character for creating the ills and not taking any personal responsibility for them. It also leads to circumstances where one may know of someone else's misfortunes and not act if they become directly involved. In Howards End action presents its weakness when the Schlegels help, Mr Wilcox's ill advice and his lack of responsibility for it leads to Mr Bast's downfall and ultimate death. Like the fates, the upper classes crush those vulnerable ones below them who try to over step their mark in life. Bast's tragedy is a direct result of a rejection of the "I" from Mr Wilcox and too much interference or inter-personal relations between the Schlegels and Bast himself.

The inner life and the outer life become themes in opposition that are connected and bridged by Margaret, someone who understands the importance of them both. Understanding the importance of the Inner is essential to understanding the importance of knowing oneself.

" `Don't brood too much on the superiority of the unseen to the seen... Our business is not to contrast the two but to reconcile them.' "

She understands that to join together two halves, the monk and beast, brings together the Apollonian and Dionysian to balance a human and let them see life whole rather than blinkered and steady like the Wilcoxes of the novel see it.

"It is impossible to see modern life steadily and see it whole and she had chosen to see it whole. Mr Wilcox saw it steadily. He never bothered with the mysterious or the private."

The inner encompasses seeing life as a whole, taking personal responsibilities for one's actions, the ability to consider the abstract, to philosophise, to connect and to value people and ideas over money and things. The Schlegel family and Mrs Wilcox show that they see the unseen through their love of people, nature, culture and or having a spiritual depth to them. The spiritual aspect is the basis for the connection between Mrs Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel. Howards End is left to Margaret in Mrs Wilcox's will; Mrs Wilcox had found her spiritual heir, someone who cared for others as Margaret cared for Mrs Wilcox, while the rest of the family was away motoring. The connection is mirrored between the two classes when Margaret and Mr Henry Wilcox marry after the death of Mrs Wilcox. However this connection has no spiritual depth, in fact Mr Wilcox approaches it as a business deal. Mr Wilcox plans his first...

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