Howards End

by

E. M. Forster

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Howards End: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Margaret and Helen have Leonard over to discuss his company. He doesn’t like talking to them about his work, intent on preserving the boundaries between “Romance” and his menial profession. He doesn’t know how to answer their questions about the state of the company, knowing little about the firm’s true financial standing at his lowly level. When they tell him their news from Henry, he claims that the company is fine, but lacks conviction. He resents their insistence on talking about insurance when he longs to discuss art.
While Margaret and Helen only want to help Leonard, they fail once again to understand the unequal dynamics of their relationship with Leonard and how they make him feel uncomfortable and insecure about his mundane life. He is embarrassed by his position as a common clerk, and further embarrassed by his lack of any high-level knowledge about the company. The capitalist system discourages transparency in a company so that they can get away with manipulating the public.
Themes
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Henry and Evie drop in, and Leonard excuses himself. Helen tells him to come back soon, and again he refuses. She accuses him of being rude when they only meant to help him, and he replies that it was rude of them to start “picking [his] brains for official information.” Margaret insists that she and Helen only sought to befriend him because of their mutual ambition to “struggle against life’s daily greyness,” but Leonard fails to understand her and leaves feeling sorely humiliated.
Leonard leaves when a true man of business arrives, angry and self-conscious about his inability to measure up. To relieve his hurt feelings and make himself feel important once more, he accuses Margaret and Helen of trying to take advantage of his insider information. Margaret tries to explain that they meant to do no such thing, but Leonard is too upset to understand or believe her highly philosophical explanation.
Themes
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Henry smugly warns Margaret against trying to befriend such people who “aren’t our sort.” Margaret repeats that she and Helen like Leonard because he is interested in pursuing adventure and endeavoring “to relieve life’s daily grey.” Henry, missing the point, warns her not to assume that Leonard’s life is necessarily “grey.” He declares, “You know nothing about him … live and let live, and assume that things are jogging on fairly well elsewhere, and that the ordinary plain man may be trusted to look after his own affairs.” Margaret finds it difficult indeed to argue against the unknowability of most people, but privately she maintains her faith in Leonard.
Henry looks down on members of the lower classes like Leonard, but Margaret believes that individuals of any class are equally capable of comprehending meaningful concepts like the bleakness and tedium of life, and equally capable of the creativity to make one’s days brighter. Uncomprehending, Henry defends his position of willful ignorance concerning the private affairs of strangers. His belief that people are best left alone to deal with their own affairs ignores that fact that the decisions of some greatly affect others’ state of affairs.
Themes
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon