Public School Mentality in Howards End and Passage to India Essay

Public School Mentality in Howards End and Passage to India Essay

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Public School Mentality in Howard's End and Passage to India


The public-school system remains unique because it was created by the Anglo-Saxon middle classes - how perfectly it expresses their character - with its boarding houses, its compulsory games, its system of prefects and fagging, its insistence on good form and on esprit de corps -
(E.M. Forster, 'Notes on the English Character', 1936.)

Forster perceived the public-school system to be at the centre of the English middle-classes, defining their set of core values and moulding their behaviour. He was particularly intrigued by the notion of emotional repression being indoctrinated into public-school pupils, and the effects of this 'stiff upper lip' mentality is keenly considered in both Howards End and A Passage to India. While several of his male protagonists unquestionably display solidity and efficiency, their lack of imagination and inclination towards hypocrisy inevitably undermine any potentially positive characteristics. Their personal relationships with others are consequently affected, and in A Passage to India the failure of Anglo-Saxon relations is significantly contributed to by the small-minded selfishness of the English. Forster's skilful use of contrast means that those removed from the public-school mentality, such as the colourful characters of Leonard Bast and Aziz, can serve to expose its flaws.

The extreme importance of maintaining an unruffled sense of composure, or 'good form' in all situations, even if done in an illusory manner, is an element of public-school mentality much explored by Forster. Margaret Schlegel is subjected to this when travelling in a train with the Fussells, and somewhat bemusedly notes how they raised windows for som...


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...ring will inherit Howard's End is perhaps a way for Forster to applaud his emotional maturity: in contrast, Henry reaches a dead end with no prospects.

The fact that Forster is clearly opposed to the public-school system and its values is responsible for much of the effectiveness of his writing, especially in Howards End and A Passage to India. His rigorous scepticism of rigid, middle-class behaviour leads to particularly vivid characterisation, and enhances the exciting tension prevalent in both novels. While he is hesitant in explicitly condemning public-school mentality - which is, incidentally, never clearly defined by Forster - his sly observations and cunning implications regarding the subject are significant. Even if one is reluctant to draw firm conclusions about his viewpoint, there can be no denying that it is a powerful vehicle for Forster's wry wit.

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