Howard's End," by E.M. Forster, is a story that uses people to represent the idealized positive and negative traits of the upper and lower class English in the early twentieth century. Three of the characters embody the symbolic stereotypes given to their respective classes. Margaret Schlegel represents the more idealized, romantic ideals of the upper class; she is interested in things with intellectual, beautiful and artistic value. On the contrary, Henry Wilcox embodies the negativity associated with upper class -- materialism, hard-nosed stuffiness and conventionalism. Leonard Bast, who finds himself at the very bottom of the social and monetary scale, represents the poor, working class who wish to better themselves through association with upper class, and through reading of books about finer things.
Forster interestingly uses this novel to develop Margaret, the chief protagonist, from a seemingly two-dimensional character at the outset of the story into a three-dimensional one at the end. Margaret is very much the motherly character of the book in the way that she takes care of her younger brother, Tibby and feels the need to protect her sister Helen. Margaret has a flair for the overdramatic, proven when Helen sends a letter about a romantic encounter with Paul Wilcox, which sends Margaret into a fit. She feels that she must go down to visit with her sister immediately, because "I love my dear sister; I must be near at this crisis of her life'." (Forster, 569) By her overreaction, her Aunt Juley actually goes to Howard's End to visit with Helen (in the hopes of breaking off her "engagement" to Paul) in place of Margaret, whom Aunt Juley states, "would say the wrong thing." (Forster, 569) Margaret continues to seem quite flighty, emotional and ditzy throughout the beginnings of the novel, but begins to develop more stable emotions after developing a friendship (though somewhat timidly) with Mrs. Wilcox in Chapter Eight.
Mrs. Wilcox represents everything good and perfect in the world -- she is only in the first half of the novel, but she manages to be steady in her goodness, gentleness and selflessness; Mrs. Wilcox, like the reader, seems to perceive more than just "pretty" in Margaret. Margaret begins to broaden her emotional range to include sympathy for others, including the Wilcoxes, which begins with her friendship with Mrs. Wilcox. After Mrs. Wilcox dies, Margaret feels even more protective of Henry Wilcox (who later oddly becomes her romantic interest and husband). By Chapter 18, when Henry proposes to Margaret, Margaret has grown fond of being with him, and loves the ideals that he represents to her -- "not youth's creative power, but its self-confidence and optimism." (Forster, 694) Her idealism is partially shattered when she learns of Henry's affair with the prostitute Jacky, but her rejection of her own principles when confronted by a pregnant Helen (Chapter 37) brings a full maturation of Margaret's character. Love has remained her main emotion, as when she found out about Henry's affair with Jacky and thinks "Henry must be forgiven, and made better by love." (Forster, 766) Until her sister became pregnant, Margaret maintained a certain "acceptable" level of class despite her emotions. Despite her want for a life with Henry, she leaves him when he doesn't find it in his heart to connect his emotions with his head -- he can't have her unless he accepts her sister, too. She truly becomes independent in her thinking for the first time and ignores society; her husband and her own head and follow her love.
Luckily, Margaret's husband also changes quite a bit during the novel as well. He is a practical man, older than Margaret by about twenty years, which makes him of a different generation than her. His upbringing causes him to analyze everything in a tedious fashion, while not involving emotion in any sense of his life. He embodies, along with his family, all of the unpleasant aspects of the wealthy -- he demeans his wife and other women (sometimes without even meaning to), trivializes the monetary struggles of the poor, and tends to think that his wife's emotions are silly. His marriage to Margaret forces him to deal with his emotions on a level that he…