115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Liminality, Fantasy, and Connection in E. M. Forster’s The Celestial Omnibus

Barbara Young, California State University, Los Angeles

Forster’s short story will relate the aesthetical philosophy of Percy Bysse Shelley in connection with personal interpretations of classical literature. A focus on Victor Turner’s study on the transitional stages of liminality and Forster’s own biographical experiences will elucidate changes in the individual during the transformative stages.


The subject of liminality has been commonly viewed as a threshold or crossing over stage in the first stages of personal development. However, it seems that the events that occur in this transitional stage have not as yet been examined. In this paper, the process of ritualistic rites of passage will be studied to explain these psychological transformations through the character of a young boy in E. M. Forster’s “The Celestial Omnibus.” This transitional stage will be examined through the young boy’s detachment from a bourgeois upbringing that teaches the commodification of people and of art. His longing for an aesthetical approach to classical literature leads him to a fantastic world full of imaginative sights and sounds that make remarkable connections to the theories of Percy Bysshe Shelley. These poetical aesthetics will then be juxtaposed with Victor Turner’s study of the rites of passage and Benjamin Bateman’s “queer invitation.” Their theories will delineate the external forces that bring about the desire to change and the connections made in the liminal space between concrete thought processes and the imagination.

            A further discussion on these adaptations will demonstrate the anxieties that arise from leaving behind familiar conventions to enter a world of unknown possibilities. During this period of self-doubt and resistance to change, I suggest that ongoing negotiations that are both conscious and unconscious take place. This will be illustrated through Forster’s fictional character through his acceptance and refusal of proposed transformations while in a hesitant state of transition. These deliberations entail the decisive force necessary to leave behind a conventional world and show the beginnings of autonomous thought which then interacts with the imagination in the development of the self while in liminality. This phase requires a complete reliance on innate desires and illuminates the imagination’s involvement with interpretive analyses (in this case through the works of Homer and Dante). The interactions with both the familiar and unfamiliar generate dynamic experiences of color and sound that provide evidence that the imagination works to reanalyze learned material through personal interpretations. This occurs while in an in between state of conscious desire and the boy provides a prime example of these self-empowering forces as he undergoes all three ritual stages of humiliation, detachment, and liminality. Through these processes, the synthesis of conventional behaviors and internal metaphorical experiences occur, resulting in either a partial or full transformation of the self.  The boy’s engagement with the unique interpretations of the classics exemplifies each of these transitional movements and illuminates the decision making processes that take place during the liminal phase.

            The study will reinforce my premise that this phase of crossing over into unknown territory becomes more than a mere threshold in that important connections are created between the pre-existing self, the transitory self, and the new, transformed identity. The creation of these connections elucidates the contemplative reactions to change and their role in the individualization of self-development.