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Howards End | Chapters 21–22 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 21

Sitting in their yard in Hilton with their two young children, Charles blames his wife, Dolly, for his father's engagement to Margaret. He claims that if she hadn't introduced Evie to her uncle, Percy Cahill, Evie would have stayed at home and kept her father company, preventing him from turning his own thoughts to marriage. Dolly says it is not her fault. Charles continues to suspect Margaret of manipulating his family in order "to get hold of Howards End." He says that he will be on the watch for any mistreatment of his father or any sign of the Schlegels' "artistic beastliness." If that is the case, he will put his foot down. The narrator notes that Dolly and Charles are now the parents of two small children, with another on the way.

Chapter 22

Margaret hopes to help Mr. Wilcox "connect the prose in himself with the passion without [which] we are meaningless fragments." Mr. Wilcox has never learned how to embrace his emotions, believing, for example, that "bodily passion," meaning sexuality, "is bad." According to the narrator, Margaret will fail to bridge this divide between the personal and the impersonal in Mr. Wilcox because it is beyond his comprehension.

Margaret tells Mr. Wilcox that Helen has had a letter from Mr. Bast saying that he followed their advice and left his job at the Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company. Mr. Wilcox absentmindedly remarks that the Porphyrion is a pretty good business, and that he's had a letter of his own. His tenant at Howards End is leaving and wants to sublet the house. Margaret reminds him that Mr. Bast left his job based on Mr. Wilcox's recommendation, but Mr. Wilcox refuses to take responsibility. When Helen is upset to hear that Mr. Bast took the new, lower-paying job for no good reason, Mr. Wilcox persists in denying any responsibility. She believes it is their duty to help the poor, but he disagrees: "as civilization moves forward, the shoe is bound to pinch in places, and it's absurd to pretend that anyone is responsible personally." He claims that the rich and poor will always exist.

Mr. Wilcox wants Margaret to leave her aunt's to go check on Howards End. She says she can't end her visit so soon or she will hurt her aunt's feelings. Mr. Wilcox says he will speak to her aunt, but Margaret insists that she doesn't want to leave early, accusing him of bullying her. He speaks to her aunt, and Margaret concedes that she must leave early.

Analysis

Readers are likely unsurprised to see in Chapter 21 that Charles still suspects Margaret is trying to get her hands on Howards End and maintains his disdain for the Schlegel family's "artistic beastliness." Despite a lack of evidence, he believes Margaret has orchestrated an engagement with his father in order to deprive him of Howards End, a house he doesn't even want. He takes his suspicions a step further by worrying that Margaret will mistreat his father. The fact that he and his family have never disclosed the dilemma to Margaret herself does not cross his mind.

The narrator of Howards End usually tries to reconcile opposing views of characters for the sake of human connection. However, on some occasions, the narrator does not hesitate to offer cutting social criticism. In this case, it is aimed at the all-encompassing greed that lurks behind Charles's hunger to hang on Howards End, and that represents the ruthlessness of his social class: "Nature is turning out Wilcoxes in this peaceful abode, so that they may inherit the earth."

Forster returns to the theme of connection in Chapter 22 in Margaret's desire to teach Mr. Wilcox to synthesize his emotions and desires with his intelligence. The reason behind their furtive kiss in Chapter 20 is identified in Chapter 22. Mr. Wilcox is ashamed of his sexual desires and of physical passion. In fact, he prefers to avoid emotions of any kind: "I am not a fellow who bothers about my own inside." Margaret has great hopes that their lives will be happy if she can teach him to "only connect" by getting in touch with his own emotions and those of others. His "obtuseness" is named as the obstacle that will prevent her from being able to show Mr. Wilcox how to connect to his own feelings or recognize the emotional reactions of people around him. He simply cannot understand why doing so is important on any level, nor does he recognize Margaret's depth of perception about the issue.

The author returns to the question of the social responsibility of the rich in Chapter 22 by contrasting the views of the Schlegels and Mr. Wilcox. Mr. Wilcox claims that the rich and poor will always exist and that the progress of society makes the poverty of some inevitable. He believes that no one is personally responsible for inequality, nor is a remedy possible or necessary. Helen, on the other hand, believes that the wealthy should help the poor, and she sees personal culpability on her own part, as well as Mr. Wilcox's, for Mr. Bast's increased poverty. Mr. Wilcox not only rejects responsibility for Mr. Bast's situation, he barely remembers the man ever existed in the first place. Whereas Helen is passionate in belief that Mr. Bast did not have to leave his job, Mr. Wilcox remains practical and unemotional.

At one point in Chapter 22 Margaret appears to stand up to Mr. Wilcox, when she tells him she won't leave her vacation at Swanage early. She is thinking of her aunt, whose feelings will be hurt if they leave early, but Mr. Wilcox simply sees it as a practical, rather than an emotional, issue. She even accuses him of bullying her when he tries to dismiss her wishes, insisting that she doesn't really need to stay longer. However, when he ignores her wishes, speaking to her aunt about leaving early, Margaret gives in, telling her aunt that there really is a lot to do, so she must go with Mr. Wilcox earlier than expected. As usual, she seems content with her choice to submit to Mr. Wilcox's desires, rather than act on her own. This points to a tension in their marriage between her desire to act of her own free will and his desire to direct her actions as he sees fit.

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