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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Symbols



In the novel the color gray comes up frequently. It represents monotony, hopelessness, depression, and the ills of urbanization and industrialization. Margaret assures Mr. Bast that "there was something beyond life's daily gray." Life in London is described as "swimming the gray tides." Gray is also associated with fog, a phenomenon common in England, especially London due to pollution. Poor Mr. Bast's existence is described as "a gray life." Margaret thinks that giving the poor larger sums of money would be better than small charitable offering which serve only in "making the gray more gray" for them by contrast. Fog obscures and confuses. Helen praises Mr. Bast for trying to "get away from the fog that is stifling us all," by exploring nature in his nighttime walk in search of a more transcendent view of life. Sadly, he describes the dawn the next day as still "only gray." In Chapter 44, Margaret declares an antidote for all this "grayness": "eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be ... color in the dally gray." It is the differences, or uniqueness of individuals, that bring color to the world.


Cars symbolize modern technology and what is lost as a result. Racing down dirt country roads, cars kick up dust, blurring and separating riders from nature. Margaret "lost all sense of space" in the seat of a moving motorcar as "trees, houses, people, animals, hills, merged and heaved into one dirtiness." Cars not only obscure and bypass the view of nature as they race along, they endanger it. The car carrying guests to Oniton kills a little girl's pet in the road, and the driver is unconcerned, even resenting the girl for what he interprets as her rudeness. There is no concern for the animal, nor its owner, only that the driver and his passengers resume their trip as soon as possible. Charles, the very representation of greedy materialism, loves nothing more than his car.

English Country Homes

The author includes several English country homes in the novel, in addition to Howards End, including Oniton and Charles's somewhat smaller home in Hilton. All represent what stands to be lost in the urbanization of the country. These homes, which have seen so much English history and have been passed down to succeeding generations, were integral to the community as well as the culture. Surrounded by countryside, these houses in the novel are peaceful and idyllic. They represent a view of life which was threatened during the Edwardian era by the onslaught of modern technology and growth hurtling England into the future. Howards End, a modest country home with a beautiful garden and an ancient tree, symbolizes a place of healing and rejuvenation, where love and human connection can flourish. Its setting in the English countryside links it to the long history of rural life supplanted by the urban factories of the Industrial Revolution that fueled modern life in London, as presented in the novel.

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