Use of Religion to Offer a Critique of Society in Forster's “A Room with a View" and Hartley's "The Go-Between"

Use of Religion to Offer a Critique of Society in Forster's “A Room with a View" and Hartley's "The Go-Between"

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“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 fre...

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... enquiry is whether the morals of society allow people to flourish, or stunt their development. The other examines whether figures that are given authority by society act as moral guides and enable freedom or whether they cause irreparable damage. They both use religion to offer a critique of the society of the time that they were writing for. Forster criticises the early twentieth century “religion” which judges people, art and society on appearance rather than morality, whilst Hartley attacks a 1950s audience on the way “religion” has become about glorifying people who abstain from life. Ultimately, they both suggest that self-empowerment is the true human condition.


Forster, E.M. (1907) A Room with a View, Penguin Classics

Hartley, L.P. (1953) The Go-Between, Penguin Modern Classics

Sartre, J.P. (1946) Existentialism and Humanism, Methuen

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