Aspects of class and culture in E.M. Forsters "Howards End" and Hanif Kureishis "The Buddha of Suburbia"

Term Paper, 2007

22 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Analogies

3 Karim and Leonard Bast - autodidacts with inferiority complexes
3.1 Karim vs. Eleanor
3.2 Leonard vs. the Schlegel sisters

4 Industrial class vs. Intelligentsia: Howards End’s Wilcoxes and Schlegels by analogy with The Buddha of Suburbia’s Ted and Jean and Eleanor
4.1 Ted and Jean’s materialism vs. Eleanor’s “indifference to class, culture and money”
4.2 Wilcoxes and Schlegels - “Islands of money” vs. the “proponents of friendship”

5 The Attractivity of the Lower Classes
5.1 The working class myth in the Buddha of Suburbia in contrast to the reputation of the lower-middle class
5.2 The Schlegels and Leonard Bast – The Charm of the Common Man

6 Conclusion

7 Bibliography
Primary Literature
Secondary Literature

1 Introduction

“Education in its most genuine form must be reduced to one’s relation to it.”

Although very much related to the fields of sociology, the paper can nevertheless be considered as a literary interpretation. It is primarily targeted on examining the different aspects of class occurring in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia and E.M. Forster’s Howards End, and will attempt to put them into relation to each other. Furthermore, the classes occurring in the two novels shall be analysed in respect of their relation to education and culture.

Especially in the course of recent discussions on poverty and the lower classes in Germany, the subject – which is significantly “harder to talk about […] than other axes of oppression” – surely does not lack a certain relevance.

The selection of the two works was primarily made due to their similar structure: on the one hand an ambitious young man from the lower-middle class, who desperately transpires towards the higher class, but lacking genuine education, the “invaluable and irreplaceable capital” possessed by the “intelligentsia”. On the other hand the industrial class, bearer of the economic capital, who equally lack a sense of value for culture, but who are not aware of it.

The two novels, having been written eighty years apart from each other, offer the unique opportunity to explore what has changed and what has remained the same regarding class distinctions over the century. The following paper intends to answer which the different classes represented in the two novels are, which analogies can be discovered between the classes, and what exactly culture and education contribute to the distinction of the several classes. Pierre Bourdieu’s “Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste” , being highly renowned and unique in its discipline of sociology, shall contribute the essential scientific background.

After examining potential similarities between the two novels in the first chapter “Analogies”, the two representatives of the lower-middle class – Karim and Leonard – are to be compared to each other in respect of their cultural aspirations in the second chapter. The third chapter shall be consecrated to the representatives of the industrial class in both books – what similarities and what differences can be stated between the “Wilcoxes” in Howards End and “Ted and Jean” in The Buddha of Suburbia and in what relation do they stand to the “Schlegels” and “Eleanor”, the representatives of the intellectual class? Finally, the fourth chapter wants to find out why and in which way the working class and the common man are attractive and interesting to the higher and more cultured classes.

2 Analogies

Beforehand, some aspects the two novels Howards End and The Buddha of Suburbia have in common shall be pointed out in the following. Although they were not decisive for the selection of the two novels that will be analyzed in account of their aspects of class, the analogies the two novels bear are worth mentioning.

To begin with, it might be unintended, but nevertheless striking that Hanif Kureishi used very a similar naming in his Buddha of Suburbia as Forster did in Howards End, even if there is no genuine analogy between the several persons of the same name.

Karim’s mother for example, a simple woman of the working class, is called Margaret, just like Margaret Schlegel, a representative of the intellectual class and therefore antagonist to her namesake. Besides, there is Helen, a girl from the upper-middle class and later lover of Karim, whose name reminds of Helen Schlegel, Margaret’s sister and therefore also belonging to the intelligentsia.

Eva Kay, a representative of the upper-middle class but despite her efforts not genuinely belonging to the intelligentsia, finds her counterpart in Eva Wilcox, the daughter of the Wilcox family who epitomize the industrial class.

Finally there is Charles - or “Charlie” - Kay, Eva Kay’s beautiful son who thinks of himself as something special, just like Charles Wilcox does, Eva Wilcoxes’ brother, who reveals to be a typical snob.

Besides those name similarities which one might argue are nothing more than arbitrary, there is, however, a very clear parallel between Anwar’s and Leonard Bast’s death: both are hit and both die of a heart attack. While the former, a very conservative Indian, is ironically hit by his son-in-law with a dildo in self-defense, the latter is beaten with a sword by Charles Wilcox, who takes revenge for Leonard’s impregnating Helen.

While Changez is lucky, and is released after initially having been accused of manslaughter, Charles is arrested for manslaughter and has to go to prison for three years.

Finally, the significant symbol of the umbrella shall be discussed briefly, since it occurs in both novels as a symbol of lower-middle class life. In Howards End Leonard Bast meets the Schlegels through his umbrella, which is accidentally taken home by Helen. When he follows her with Margaret to obtain it back, although fascinated, he cannot pay attention to Margaret’s speeches which “fluttered away from the young man like birds” (27), being worried for his umbrella, which “persisted with the steady beat of a drum.” (27)

Later, talking to Helen, the other Schlegel sister, he has the same difficulties: “Leonard looked at her wondering, and had the sense of great things sweeping out of the shrouded night. But he could not receive them, because his heart was still full of little things. As the lost umbrella had spoilt the concert at Queen’s Hall, so the lost situation was obscuring the diviner harmonies now.” (171)

Clearly, the umbrella stands for the little things in life, banal but also existential things that a lower-middle class person has to worry for, and which prevent them from concentrating on the greater things like culture and education and leisure, the so-called “diviner harmonies” an upper-class person can allow to have on their mind.

Hanif Kureishi curiously also used this symbol for lower-middle class life, comparing the latter to a “cage of umbrellas and steely regularity” (24), meaning “nur noch Züge und scheißende Söhne, platzende Wasserrohre im Januar und Feuermachen um sieben in der Früh”, profane things, instead of “wohltuender zerstreuungen, einer abfolge von strand und kricket, von britenwitzen und zahnarztstühlen”, which Haroon actually had expected. (nachkucken: 24!)


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Aspects of class and culture in E.M. Forsters "Howards End" and Hanif Kureishis "The Buddha of Suburbia"
University of Heidelberg
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Stephanie Geissler (Author), 2007, Aspects of class and culture in E.M. Forsters "Howards End" and Hanif Kureishis "The Buddha of Suburbia", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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