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SarahMalayaSniezek's picture

origins of social class

Social class plays a significant role in “Howard’s End”.  More specifically social class with respect to how one person views another.  Judgment is something often passed on one another in this book both directly and indirectly.  Forster, through the novel, depicts social class as the machine that runs life in pre WWI England.  Social class creates rules and boundaries as rigid as common law.  One example is Leonard Best’s constant effort to convincing himself and others that he is a “good” as the wealthy.  Another is the way in which the Wilcox’s, at times, negatively view the Schlegel's German decent.  

This aspect of the novel got me thinking about social class, and why we feel the need to classify others as “better” or “worse” than ourselves.  What is the evolutionary basis for this behavior?  Just figuring out where to begin addressing this question is a difficult task, but I do remember some related discussion from a previous course I took.  In the prior course, we studied the beginnings law and the reasons for it.  Many philosophers including Hegel and Weber, if I recall correctly, stated that humans need to have general expectations of others in order to make proper decisions.  In other words, in order to simplify our ability to make decisions, we must classify and use generalizations about the classes to make decisions.  Generalizations, although often wrong both practically and morally, are used to allow us to make easier decisions.  We do not have the ability to see the future, but we do have the ability to remember the past and use that to try to predict the future.  From that, ability stems our need to create social classes.  

But then why do some cultures put more weight on classifications than others?  Why, at the time of “Howard’s End” are people more concerned with class than now?  Does that mean that our need to generalize today is not as great as it was in pre WWI England, or do we use other things, besides class, to generalize?


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