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Use Of Religion To Offer A Critique Of Society In Forster's “A Room With A View" And Hartley's "The Go Between"

2216 words - 9 pages

“Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose”, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946.

In these books, religion is used as a tool to express this feeling; even though A Room with a View was written before Existentialism and Humanism, Sartre’s idea is very clear in Forster’s work. The authors examine ways of living; impassively, as is thrust upon one by a society with such concrete values, or actively, through a rejection of the innate morals of this society. The Church and the Zodiac, the two “religions”, are used to represent the constraining nature of society in their influence on the thoughts and decisions of the main characters. The second issue addressed is of authority. The authors analyse the idea behind Sartre’s idea, that only “you” can give meaning and value to your life. By creating flawed conceptions of respectable, religious figures of authority (the priests and the character-zodiac manifestations) the characters are empowered to judge who is really in control of life and who should be. Upon discovering that the despotic idols cannot drive Lucy’s own ideas out of her, Forster delves deeper by questioning what should replace this lost guide to life; the answer he explores is love, perhaps this is the device that can free her and inevitably, as Sartre would say, hand control of her life to herself. Hartley too explores the idea that a replacement of religious authority is needed by not providing one for Leo, and as a result, his ‘discovery’ is life-negating rather than liberating.
The first idea explored in The Go-Between is the distinction between the life that religion forces one to live, and the life that they could live if they broke free from it. Two scenes that accommodate this debate are when Leo is in church looking at the mural tablets of the dead Viscounts and when Hugh reveals why the fifth Viscount was denied by the church. In terms of structure, these scenes are placed at the height of success for the Zodiac; after Leo’s triumphant spells (which grant him vengeance in school and his wish for heat at the manor), and before the downfall of Ted and Marian, the incarnations of the signs, towards the end when they are caught “spooning”. This means that it has a poignant effect on the reader as they see the effects of the trap of religion that Leo is agonisingly falling into unawares. From a language perspective, the memory of these dead lords is so cold and impersonal that to Leo they are “more dead, more gone, than if they had been given proper graves instead of mere wall space”. The idea that they are irremovably part of the building mirrors the D’Urberville portraits in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, conveying that the past is inescapable and perhaps even an essential part of the present. In this case, Leo’s future self is shaped wholly by his past, as he is scarred by what he learns by seeing Ted and Marian into never partaking in...

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