Finding Margaret – a Case For Reincarnation
Dating back to the 1800’s, E.M Forster’s Howards End tells a story of men and women in Edwardian Society who must live by the connotation that men are superior. E.M Forster associates gender with class, and complicates the terms masculine and feminine, ultimatley closing off the possibility of a heteronormative reading based on gender stereotypes and heterosexual desire. According to Judith Butler’s theory that gender is performative; our reading of Howards End can be reconstructed to show that Margaret is anachronistically masculine. Although she is comfortable embracing these ideals in the abstract of her own life, she instinctively resorts back to displaying “acceptable” feminine behavior most visibly in her relationship with Henry.
To begin with, in Judith Butler’s theoretical essay titled “Gender Trouble”, Butler’s main argument is that gender identity is not identified through social order, but rather through ones performative actions and behaviors. Butler writes, “Gender out not to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts”. This creates the notion that anyone female can be deemed having a masculine role in life just by the way that they act. Thus, looking at Margaret in a way that makes her fit for assuming a masculine role in her life.
Margaret displays qualities that represent both male and female. Being the older sister of both Helen and Tibby, Margaret was left to care for both the house and her family after their parents had died. Forster explains, “she had kept house for over ten years; she had entertained, almost with distinction; she had brought up a charming sister, and was bringing up a brother”. Being that there was no one left to share the roles with Margaret, she had to assume the role as both male authoritarian while concurrently raising her two younger siblings, as the role of a mother. It was not until Margaret had met Henry Wilcox, when everything had changed.
Granted that Margaret had fallen in love with the idea of Henry, she struggled to conform to his ideals of femininity. Henry believes that women will always be inferior to men, and holds women to a much stricter moral code than his own gender. Charles Wilcox emphasizes to Margarat that, “He says the most horrid things about women’s suffrage so nicely, and when I said I believed in equality he just folded his arms and gave me such a setting down as I’ve never had. I had just picked up the notion that equality is good from some book probably from poetry, or you”. Henry’s opposition to women’s equality suggests that he finds Margarets blindness to her true nature as an advantage so she will always make him feel superior, and secure.
In spite of their whirlwind marriage, their relationship runs smoothly for some time. Margaret becomes more domesticated, and feminized, in her marriage to Henry Wilcox. Under Henry’s influence however, Margaret begins to become more domesticated, and morphing into a new role as a traditional wife who is submissively feminine. Once Margaret had found out about Henry’s affair with Jackie when he was previously married, Margaret forgives Henry easily, whereas the masculine role of Margaret would have “balked at this revelation”. Although this is not a huge gender setback for Margaret, the true climax of Howards End in terms of gender binary roles is Helen’s out of wedlock pregnancy.
With this in mind, Helens pregnancy caused such a rift in their society, and Helen was quick to be shunned from the community; and her family. Being that Margaret is such a superior figure in terms of family, she turns to Henry as her only hope. Being a traditional man in the 19th century, Henry had responded to the news of Helen’s pregnancy leads to his selfish presumption that Helen is unstable; which infuriates Margaret. His behavior opens her eyes to Henry’s faults, causing a resurrection in her masculine presence, and free spirit. For the first time in their marriage, Margaret breaks out of her feminine gender role, and exclaims, “You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry! You have had a mistress I forgave you. My sister has a lover you drive her from the house. Do you see the connection? Stupid,hypocritical, cruel oh, contemptible ! a man who insults his wife when she!s alive and cants with her memory when she!s dead. A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and casts her off to ruin other man. And gives bad financial advice, and then says he is not responsible. These, man, are you.
With this being said, this speech marked a turning point in the novel, as well as Margaret. Not only did Margaret stands up for herself against Henry, she proves that just because she is born feminine does not mean that society, and your environment cannot influence your true gender binary role. After Leonard Bast’s death, and Charles Wilcox’s arrest, it is not Margaret who is stripped of their gender role; it’s Henry. Forster writes that his “fortress gave way. He could bear no one but his wife, he shambled up to Margaret afterwards and asked her to do what she could with him”. Upon being asked to guide Henry through this difficult time, Margaret forgives Henry of all he has done, and agrees to rebuild their marriage; but this time as equals.
Not only does Judith Butler’s theory on gender roles allow you to view Margaret and Henry’s relationship differently, it gives Howards End a new meaning in terms of empowering women who still may be stuck in a hierarchical mode within their society. Margaret and Henry’s relationship in the aspect of their gender roles allows us readers to determine what being female was like in a patriarchal society was like. Being that Margaret had deemed herself to be a more masculine role in society, Howards End is able to tell her story in order to influence any audience to assume whatever gender they are without judgement.
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Dating back to the 1800’s, E.M Forster’s Howards End tells a story of men and women in Edwardian Society who must live by the connotation that men are superior. E.M […]