Howards End

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Throughout the novel, we are often led to question the gender roles into which the men of Howards End are forced. As the novel is highly feminist, due to the ideas, words, and actions of both the Schlegel sisters, it is merely inevitable that the concept of masculinity should be in the novel as well, for its existence only supplements the feminist themes. However, the pervasiveness of masculinity is multifaceted. We are made aware of Henry’s powerful masculinity, but also of Leonard’s meeker acceptance of manhood not as something taken for granted but as a privilege, a thing to be desired. Coupled with Tibby’s queerness, the range of masculinity portrayed in the novel breaks the mold of stereotype.

In this time period, being a man means acting in such a way as to imitate a Wilcox man. This involves essentially running England (albeit perhaps to a lesser degree than the Wilcoxes) while still maintaining one’s gentility. “If Wilcoxes hadn’t worked and died in England . . . There would be no trains, no ships . . . no fields even. Just savagery” (149). It takes masculinity to essentially run the country, and the Wilcox men have this. They are the ones who have built up society and as such, they are the ideal men to follow in example.

A man is allowed to participate in general society much more than a woman–in fact, often he can do whatever he wishes (within basic means) and end up in less trouble than a woman. This is shown clearly when Henry Wilcox is thought just a little bit lesser of when his affair with Jacky is found out, compared to the societal shun that the Schlegels expect once they discover Helen is having a child.

Being a man ideally does not mean succumbing to temptation, although Henry, Charles, Leonard, and Pau...

... middle of paper ... gets hay fever, he “gets quite cross when [Helen] inquires after it” (3). The Wilcoxes are so stagnant in their roles of manliness that they are reluctant to even admit that they could be weak enough to contract an illness. In their eyes, weakness is a characteristic of the female, and certainly not the male.

Masculinity is not limited simply to one model in Howards End, that of the Wilcox men, but it is in fact malleable. Although it is not always beneficial (especially in Leonard’s case) to not fit the stereotype, the fact remains that one can still be a man, per se, without having to live up to the stereotype. Indeed, the eccentricity of Forster’s characters allow for the stereotypical male to seem ridiculous and out of place. The novel’s true heroes are those who do not conform (or are not able to conform) and thus break out of their stifling gender roles.
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