The symbolic moment in the fiction of E. M. Forster
Hoak, Barbara Ann
Master of Arts
This thesis is a study in the fiction of E. M. Forster of a principle which has been named the "symbolic moment." The symbolic moment is defined as a short period of time which has the effect of removing character or reader from consciousness of the continual flux of mundane occurrences since it has the potential of revealing reveaIing universal, a kind of reality beyond the everyday human life processes. This thesis demonstrates that one way of seeing the structure of Forster's works is as a series of symbolic moments which are more vivid and more meaningful than everything happening between them, since they juxtapose levels of reality or meaning in incidents which often have archetypal reference. The thesis examines Forster's ideas about the structure of the novel and concludes that the symbolic moment principle fits in with Forster's conception of a novel as representation of human life, in which not all periods of time have equal significance when examined in retrospect. The symbolic moment characteristically takes the form of a confrontation--between two characters, or between a character and an object or event—which may bring about a revelation of reality if the character is prepared to accept it. The symbolic moment is examined as a focal point of structure and themes in two of Forster's short stories: "The Eternal Moment" and "The Road from Colonus." Forster's novels are a series of symbolic moments, and in the early novels—especially Where Angles Fear to Tread and A Room with a View—Forster's characters progress through them to some kind of growth in understanding which allows them to accept all sides of man's good-and-evil nature. However, the hero of The Longest Journey is criticized for not adapting himself to the flux between the symbolic moments and for drawing the wrong conclusions from his moments of vision. Howards End a novel of compromise between views of reality, moves discursively and thus is not really structured around the symbolic moment. A Passage to India contains three major symbolic moments corresponding to the three divisions of the novel, and presenting to several characters the incomprehensibility of the universe and the necessity for inclusiveness and adaptability rather than assertion of human value and personality. Finally, the thesis discusses the various aspects of significance of the symbolic moment, as it structures the plot of a novel, presents universal truth to life, and reveals meanings to characters and to reader. The symbolic moment relates to Forster's concerns with appearance and reality and with the problem of epistemology. It is a moment of incarnation of "truths" and attitudes which could not effectively be expressed discursively.