Howards End

by

E. M. Forster

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Howards End: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Helen and Margaret go to a dinner party after their stimulating meeting with Leonard. After dinner, they debate with their friends the hypothetical question of how a millionaire should best put her money to use. Margaret argues that the millionaire could do the most all-around good for the less fortunate (such as Leonard) simply by giving them money—not by subsidizing cultural experiences or by supporting food banks, but by giving them cash by which they can shed their financial burden and create meaningful lives naturally, rather than being plied with meaning through a few specialized philanthropic efforts that please the wealthy elite. Her friends object to such indiscriminate distribution of money, defending the institution of patronage.
The plight of poverty is so abstract to the Schlegels and their well-off peers that they can debate the problem for sport. Their intentions are supposedly good, as they seek to identify the best method of helping the poor, but their deliberation on the matter is ultimately meaningless without taking action themselves. Margaret is willing to take her own ego out of the equation by simply giving money to those who need it, but the rest of her educated friends are patronizingly convinced that they know better than the working poor how such money should be spent on their behalf. 
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Related Quotes
After the dinner party, the Schlegels run into Mr. Wilcox. He feels quite satisfied with himself, having doubled his income over the past two years to make himself nearly a millionaire. He speaks patronizingly to the sisters, which Helen resents but Margaret forgives in a man of his age. When they tell him about their recent debate and the sad case of their friend the clerk, he tells them that the insurance company where Leonard works is sure to go under before long, and he should look for a new job now before he is let go. Margaret and Helen are dismayed and resolve to pass this advice on to Leonard. Henry also informs them that he has recently rented out Howards End, and intends to live in the city with a second home in Oniton, Shropshire. Margaret laments that the Schlegels, too, will be moving soon.
Henry Wilcox is practically a millionaire now, but he shows no generosity towards the less fortunate. He only takes the opportunity to show off his insider business knowledge. His blindly sexist and condescending attitude towards the intelligent and sharply observant sisters is quite objectionable, but Margaret is secure enough in her own intellect to easily dismiss his sadly common prejudice. Helen is less willing to forgive Henry his absurdly paternalistic demeanor. His abandonment of Howards End speaks to his carelessness towards Ruth Wilcox’s legacy.
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