Analysis of E. M. Forster’s The Other Side of the Hedge

This short story was first published in the liberal monthly Independent Review in 1904. Later it was reprinted in E. M. Forster’s first short story collection, The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories (1911), and in The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster (1947). In his introduction to the latter volume, Forster calls all of the included pieces fantasies. “The Other Side of the Hedge” is narrated by an unnamed 25-year-old protagonist who identifies himself with the group “we of the road.” Walking along a dusty road bordered by tall, dry hedges, he becomes exhausted but is revived by a “puff of air” coming through the hedge (Tales, 40). Enticed, he wedges himself through the hedge and falls into a moat on the other side. A middle-aged man rescues him, and the narrator sees that the sparsely populated landscape is open and lush compared with the narrow, dry road. The older man explains that this place leads nowhere. Believing that the place is a prison, the narrator becomes increasingly agitated, especially when his attempts to compete with the older man and to measure his own progress are frustrated. A solitary runner and a woman singing by herself puzzle him. When he wonders aloud what it all means, the older man tells him several times that “It means nothing but itself” (Tales, 44). The narrator wishes to leave, but the older man insists on showing him a white gate in the hedge that opens onto the road. He explains that humanity went out the gate long ago, but the road doubles back and runs close to the hedge. The narrator stubbornly insists that the road moves forward to an unknown goal. Attempting to leave again, he is held in check by the older man. After the narrator refuses milk, fruit, and flowers offered by the inhabitants of the land, the older man brings him to another, semitransparent gate that opens in from the road. When the narrator sees the road again he loses self-control, gulps beer stolen from a man passing by, and succumbs to exhaustion. The older man shuts the gate and tells him that humanity will return by this gate. Before the narrator falls asleep he hears nightingales, smells hay, and sees the stars coming out. In the final moment, he recognizes the man whose beer he stole as his brother, whom he had left behind on the road a year ago.

World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo.

In this story, Forster draws his imagery from English country roads, which are often bordered by tall hedges, in order to contrast English notions of progress and “race” (in the double sense of competition and English civilization) with the unregimented, pastoral beauty of landscapes modeled on the Greek and Italian countryside. A recurrent image in his novels and other short stories, rustic landscapes reveal to Forster’s characters the possibility of humanistic liberation from stultifying, socially inculcated routines and sharply limited individuality. In this story, the people on the other side of the hedge are kind and unworried, and they pursue activities for their own sake (and thus resemble the Eloi, meek people who also live on fruit and gather flowers in H. G. Wells’s science fiction novel The Time Machine [1895]). But the narrator, who is “of the road,” is so mentally and physically confined to a narrow life of mandatory “advancement,” symbolized by the dusty road boxed in by “brown crackling hedges” and a “strip” of sky, that he cannot see the point of any other way of life (Tales, 41, 48). This story can also be read as an allegory, in which the other side of the hedge is Arcadia and the narrator’s brother represents death (he carries a scythe and causes the narrator to lose consciousness).

Analysis of E. M. Forster’s Stories

Forster, E. M. The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster. New York: Knopf, 1947. Reprinted 1979.

Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story

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