In Chapter 4, Forster uses a combination of simile, metaphor, and auditory imagery to compare Helen's sudden infatuation with the Wilcoxes of Howards End to a "thunder clap.” This outlines the suddenness and intensity of her feelings:
[...] Helen was a more serious patient. New ideas had burst upon her like a thunder clap, and by them and by their reverberations she had been stunned.
The truth was that she had fallen in love, not with an individual, but with a family.
The use of auditory imagery folded into the simile of the “thunder clap” reinforces the shocking and sudden nature of Helen’s regard. Rather than falling gradually in love, the feeling “burst” on her, giving the reader a sense of its mighty power. The use of the word "burst" suggests a sudden and explosive release of feeling, while the reference to "reverberations" evokes echoes and aftershocks that continue to thump through her.
Forster also employs the metaphor of illness to describe Helen's condition, portraying her as a "serious patient" who is "sick" with love for the Wilcoxes. This metaphor emphasizes the extent to which Helen's infatuation has taken hold of her, and suggests that she cannot simply shake it off.
The choice of words used to describe Helen's infatuation and her subsequent "illness" also serves to highlight the intensity of her sudden emotions. By using this language, the author emphasizes the overwhelming nature of Helen's feelings, and the fact that they are not easily contained or controlled. She is so overcome with them that they are making her ill. The use of vivid imagery and metaphor creates a powerful impression of Helen's infatuation and its impact on her. The emphasis on the suddenness and intensity of the feeling also helps to create a sense of tension and drama at this early point in the book.
In this passage from Chapter 1, Forster’s narrator employs visual imagery and oceanic similes and metaphors to depict the overwhelming experience of looking at England from afar:
How many villages appear in this view! How many castles! How many churches, vanished or triumphant! How many ships, railways, and roads! What incredible variety of men working beneath that lucent sky to what final end! The reason fails, like a wave on the Swanage beach; the imagination swells, spreads, and deepens, until it becomes geographic and encircles England.
The simile of reason being “like a wave” in this passage emphasizes the impossibility of comprehending everything that is happening in the country at once. Forster repeats the phrase “how many” several times, underlining the unimaginable number of things and people that England contains. The metaphor of the imagination "swelling and spreading" refers to the necessity of taking a broad view. Although one can’t get every detail of England, one can expand one's thinking to take in the sheer vastness of the landscape as a whole.
The imagery used in this passage also contributes to the novel’s overwhelming sense of the country's packed fullness. The mention of “villages,” “castles,” and “churches” suggests a rich history that is both visible and hidden. The inclusion of “ships, railways, and roads” also implies a sense of innovation and modernity, which is juxtaposed with the images of older settlements and structures that precede them. The passage conveys a sense of the country's tradition and modernity existing side by side, as well as the diversity of people working to achieve different goals.
In Chapter 23, when Margaret arrives at the Wilcox estate by herself for the first time, the scene features vivid visual and tactile imagery as well as simile and metaphor:
Then the car turned away, and it was as if a curtain had risen. [...] Tulips were a tray of jewels. She could not see the wych-elm tree, but a branch of the celebrated vine, studded with velvet knobs, had covered the porch. She had seldom been in a garden where the flowers looked so well, and even the weeds she was idly plucking out of the porch were intensely green.
Forster uses the simile of a "curtain" lifting to describe Margaret's transition from the outside, everyday world to the lush garden. This comparison suggests that the beauty and tranquility of Howards End are hidden from view until the “curtain” is lifted. As the car, which represents her modern life in London, “turn[s] away,” she is faced with a new and more appealing vision.
Forster’s metaphorical language continues with the description of the tulips as a "tray of jewels." This metaphor compares the bright and colorful flowers to precious gems, emphasizing their beauty and value in Margaret’s eyes. The vine on the wych-elm—a plant that’s usually wiry and strangling—is instead soft and appealing, covered with “velvet knobs.” Even the weeds, usually considered an unsightly aspect of a garden, are described as “intensely green,” further emphasizing the “seldom”-seen fertility and beauty of the estate.
In Chapter 23, Margaret walks around the offices in Howards End where Henry Wilcox does his work for the West Africa Rubber Company and sees a map. Forster alludes to the colonial “Scramble for Africa” of the early 20th century in this passage, using metaphor and simile to characterize Africa as a meal or an animal that can be carved up:
[...] though the map over the fireplace did depict a helping of West Africa, it was a very ordinary map. Another map hung opposite, on which the whole continent appeared, looking like a whale marked out for blubber.
The allusions Forster makes to Africa in the novel all reference Western countries invading, occupying, and dividing up the continent for their own profit. This was happening at a very accelerated rate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in a period sometimes called “The Scramble for Africa.” The metaphor of a "helping" of Africa that Forster employs suggests that the continent is being treated like food by people like Henry Wilcox. In his mind, it is a treat that the British can take a “helping” of for themselves.
Furthermore, the simile of the continent looking like a slaughtered animal emphasizes the idea of British colonial exploitation. Africa is depicted as a “whale marked out for blubber” here, as if its richest parts are ready to be carved off. This description suggests that the West Africa Rubber Company is exploiting Africa's natural resources for profit, much like whalers would extract blubber from their catch.
Margaret's thoughts about the map reflect her growing awareness of the harmful consequences of imperialism. This map presents Africa as a resource to be tapped. It serves as a powerful symbol in Howards End of the far reach of Britain’s colonizing arm.
In Chapter 26 Forster describes Margaret’s observations of Henry’s behavior while organizing his son's wedding. He uses a simile to imply Henry’s responses would be no different were he arranging a funeral. Forster then emphasizes this point with an ironic allusion. He describes Henry’s behaviour as:
[...] tact, of a sort—the sort that is as useful as the genuine, and saves even more situations at board-meetings. Henry treated a marriage like a funeral, item by item, never raising his eyes to the whole, and “Death, where is thy sting? Love, where is thy victory?” one would exclaim at the close.
Through this simile, Forster implies Henry Wilcox is so cut off from his emotions that he would approach organizing a funeral in the same way as he approaches this event. The simile highlights the unromantic, step-by-step approach that Henry takes toward planning. His useful faux-“tact” is helpful in board-meetings, but is emotionally numbing when things are hard. This approach reflects the way in which the Wilcox family sees any event they attend, as formal occasions rather than events infused with emotion and significance.
The ironic biblical allusion that the narrator makes at the end is a deliberate misquote for comic effect. The verse from First Corinthians Forster is referring to actually reads “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” and alludes to the resurrection of Christ. The narrator’s incorrect allusion to it in Howards End employs verbal irony. Henry Wilcox doesn’t make a distinction between funerals and weddings. The narrator swaps out “grave” for “love” when they say “Death, where is thy sting? Love, where is thy victory?” By replacing “grave” with “love” when imagining what a guest might say about Henry’s attitude, Forster implies that “love” and “grave” would be the same to him.
Margaret's vision of her life becomes clearer in Chapter 43 after the dramatic events of Leonard's death and the “turmoil” that follows. Forster uses a simile to describe the change in her “vision” of these circumstances:
As a prisoner looks up and sees stars beckoning, so she, from the turmoil and horror of those days, caught glimpses of the diviner wheels.
In this passage, Margaret is likened to a prisoner who is finally able to see the stars beyond her cell. Here, Forster suggests that before this, Margaret had been constrained by her own limited perspective. This simile highlights her newfound clarity. The visual imagery of the stars shedding light on her and “beckoning” also invokes understanding and a broader sense of the world.
Having experienced death, trauma, and social scandal, Margaret has a better perspective on the workings of fate. Rather than being chaotic, she begins to see life as a series of "diviner wheels" at play. The "turmoil" of her personal drama with Charles, Henry, and Leonard permits her to see beyond her own painful situation and perceive greater things in motion. Forster’s use of the word "diviner" here suggests that Margaret sees Leonard’s death as both a tragedy and a blessing, as she emerges “from the turmoil and horror” of the experience more able to handle her life. The language also suggests a sense of hope and optimism, as Margaret sees a larger purpose at work in the universe.