The tone of the narrator of Howards End varies widely in its intimacy and its seriousness. This is largely because the narrator is highly present in the story, often actively intervening and speaking directly to the reader. The narrator is also very sympathetic to the characters throughout, especially the Schlegel family. They often comment on the correctness or the kindness of these people’s choices, and conversely on the unkindness or inappropriateness of others’ behaviors.
The tone of the book oscillates between intimate, relaxed comedy and highbrow seriousness. At times, the tone is melancholic and reflective, as the author considers the social troubles of the era; where deaths occur, the tone becomes funerary and almost sermonic. The narrator often makes dense references and philosophical pronouncements, which add depth and complexity to the narrative. They describe the psychological state of characters, sometimes even commenting on their development and progress as people.
At the same time, Howards End is often funny, and the narrator is regularly seen poking satirical fun at the characters' hypocrisies and quirks of personality. The author uses humor to relieve tension and lighten the mood, especially in moments of conflict or drama. No one is taken entirely seriously. Even Margaret Schlegel is occasionally lampooned for her angelic self-importance and intense self-regard.
There is also a sense of restraint and withdrawal in the tone, as the narrator doesn't offer easy solutions to the problems faced by the characters. Instead, the reader is left to contemplate the complexities and ambiguities of the social world. Forster asks them to draw their own conclusions about the characters and their actions: for example, when Leonard Bast dies, the tragedy is presented as both an act of violence and an accident. The reader must decide where the blame lies for this event, and the novel doesn’t make that simple.
The tone of the novel overall is authoritative, consistent, and empathetic. Through the tone, Forster requires the reader to engage with the novel's social commentary, and to see its characters as nuanced and imperfect creatures.