E.M. Forster was a wonderful observer of human nature in all of its complex motivations, self-destruction, disorder, and idiocy. His works are an observation into the complexities of human nature in all of its irrational, changeable glory. Forster seems to value individualism above all else. The idea of living at the beat of another drummer’s rhythm, for people to “march to their destiny by catchwords” where the individual does not live a life they want but rather one that others desire for them, seems to lead to an unhappy life. A person who would rather live falsely than to embrace the truth is one who cannot express feelings openly and is prone to maintain unhealthy social norms. It leads to a dreary and dull life, and creates a world where moral zealousness overtakes our sensibilities, and destroys our happiness.
It’s difficult to talk about this book without giving away the whole plot. I’ve yet to see a book review which has done otherwise! I think this is due to the fact that the novel is so layered. Some people see it as a feminist study, others an untraditional romance novel, or a philosophical study of morality as it pertains to one’s freedom of choice and happiness. It is a very complex novel and, in all honesty as with most of my reviews, my interpretation of the novel is simplistic and simple and I like to relate personal experiences to the books I’ve read, so you would be hard-pressed to find me writing a feminist study or a deep study of social caste or morals.
With that said, in my opinion, A Room with a View is a book about individualism and even rebellion. Characters challenge the status quo even if it means they lose relationships, and even positions, in respectable society along the way. And in the end, it is in challenging a rigid world and leaving it behind that the characters find that they’re better served in the end. Lucy Honeychurch and The Emersons (George and his father) are in my opinion, some of literatures great individualists. They represent an alternative vision of society where individualism is valued above conformity, where freedom of choice is optimal, and even though they upset many people close to them with their choices, they all lead happier lives as individuals.
I often find myself returning to this book whenever I need to try and sympathize with the complexities of the world and the people within it. I like returning to this book because it’s a nice escapist novel, a book to take me away from the messy times we’re living in. I know, it’s not very healthy, any kind of escapism. I think about the world, how it seems more of a mess than it once was, or maybe it was always a mess and I never noticed. There seems to me this great tension in the world, a breakdown of honesty and tenderness, reality and good manners. Mostly, I find that the world is becoming a place too ingrained with a rigged morality, where people often live based on what society thinks is commonplace rather than what the individual wants. To me, it seems as though human beings are losing touch with their own imperfect, eccentric natures, the kind of natures that made this world so interesting in the first damn place.
When I was younger, I prided myself on my individualism, on the thought that people were as intellectually receptive to the ways of life and living, and that as adults people rarely grew up somber and cynical unless they’d had unrealistic expectations of life. I always stood by my own beliefs of optimal living; that one could possess optimism and knowledge, practicality and idealism and live a good existence. I looked upon the world with such zeal and excitement at that age, I still do, but I am a bit more sober with experience. I don’t regret such idealism, but I think that maybe things would have affected me less harshly as an adult if I’d also imbued some of life’s complexities into my own idealistic nature. I wish that I’d been told more about the heartbreaks. Your heart breaks, a lot. It’s painful and it can ruin the best of you, the parts of you that push you to be driven and hopeful of the future. If you’re not self-aware, brave even, it’s so easy to fall in line and be compliant with convention, to lose yourself in the safety of conformity, all because you don’t want to get your heart broken again and again.
But a bit of rebellion doesn’t have to be about being self- destructive. I’ve found that sometimes it’s as simple as having an open heart and mind, a healthy dose of self-awareness, and a good amount of empathy for others, that makes life worth living. I’m opposed to a single-minded view or idea that settles on stringent beliefs or values. My life is very unconventional, but I don’t feel as limited to experiences in life as I think I would have if I’d stuck to norms, plus, I feel good about myself. It’s this “rebelliousness” that keeps me grounded, compassionate, but also allows me to question conventions. It’s also helped me to build my confidence.
But the world is very different, the people within it, at times not as brave. Sometimes I feel like I am standing on the outside of everything, observing, watching. I see a lot of frustration, a lot of people oppressing each other, trying to contain each other’s spirit. Why is that? Fear, I think. Forster understood this fear and how it destroys people:
“[She gave up trying to understand herself, and]…the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words. The armies are full of pleasant and pious folk. But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters-the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety show cracks, their wit becomes cynicism, their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they go.”
About fear, Thich Nhat Hanh says: “People have a hard time letting go of suffering, out of a fear of the unknown. They prefer suffering that is familiar.”
Still, what I love is that Forster is unwaveringly optimistic throughout. There are no villains or good characters. Characters do not suffer for objecting to the status-quo (as so many writers of the time such as Edith Wharton and Henry James were prone to show in their novels). And even though this not very realistic, I like that Forster still believes in a happy ending. Still, happiness only comes when one has the courage to break away from convention.
So, think outside of the box, kids. And then once you’re out, take a can of gasoline, throw on it a lit match, and walk the fuck away. I say this as a metaphor, of course. Please don’t set literal fires, except to your mind, with knowledge, and a book.
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