More on Howards End from J. B. Beer (Lecturer at the University of Manchester):
"The wisp of hay which Mrs Wilcox holds participates in a stream of symbolism that runs through the entire novel. She is first seen by Helen with her hands full of hay; and when Margaret begins to take her place, later, she also picks up the habit of playing with grass -- at one point leaving a trail of it across the hall. The novel ends with a great hay harvest.
"Mr Wilcox and his children, on the other hand, are allergic to hay, and have to shut themselves away from it. Their allergy reflects a psychical limitation. Hay-fever, in fact, seems to correspond to the 'peevishness' of earlier novels -- Margaret's brother Tibby, who also suffers from it, is described as losing some of his peevishness when he goes to Oxford.
"That the symbolism as a whole is deliberate is confirmed by a brief comment on Mrs Wilcox: 'Clever talk alarmed her, and withered her delicate imaginings; it was the social counterpart of a motor-car, all jerks, and she was a wisp of hay, a flower."