A Short Summary. The first part of the novelfocuses on Mrs. Morel and her unhappy marriage to a drinking miner. She hasmany arguments with her husband, some of which have painful results: onseparate occasions, she is locked out of the house and hit on the head with adrawer. Estranged from her husband, Mrs. Morel takes comfort in her fourchildren, especially her sons.
Her oldest son, William, is her favorite, andshe is very upset when he takes a job in London and moves away from the family. When William sickens and dies a few years later, she is crushed, not evennoticing the rest of her children until she almost loses Paul, her second son,as well. From that point on, Paul becomes the focus of her life, and the twoseem to live for each other. Paul falls in love with Miriam Leivers, who liveson a farm not too far from the Morel family.
They carry on a very intimate, butpurely platonic, relationship for many years. Mrs. Morel does not approve ofMiriam, and this may be the main reason that Paul does not marry her. Heconstantly wavers in his feelings toward her. Paul meets Clara Dawes, a suffragette who isseparated from her husband, through Miriam.
As he becomes closer with Clara andthey begin to discuss his relationship with Miriam, she tells him that heshould consider consummating their love and he returns to Miriam to see how shefeels. Paul and Miriam reconcile and are briefly happy,but shortly afterward, Paul decides that he does not want to marry Miriam, andso he breaks off with her. She still feels that his soul belongs to her, and,in part agrees reluctantly. He realizes that he loves his mother most, however.
After breaking off his relationship with Miriam,Paul begins to spend more time with Clara and they begin an extremelypassionate affair. However, she does not want to divorce her husband Baxter,and so they can never be married. Paul’s mother falls ill and he devotes muchof his time to caring for her. When she finally dies, he is broken-hearted and,after a final plea from Miriam, goes off alone at the end of the novel. 1AN ANALYSISFirst published in 1913, Sons and Lovers is regarded as D.
H. Lawrence’s first major novel. The novel has always been consideredcontroversial and has been banned many times in America and in Europe. This isdue to Lawrence’s frank treatment of human sexuality and sexual themes. Most of what people haveobjected to is Lawrence’s depiction of sex. Today, this matters less, butconsidering the era in which he wrote, his portrayal is quite visionary.
Besides the vivid depictions of sex and sexuality in Sons and Lovers, Lawrence relied heavily on sexual symbolism. Muchof his symbolism was Freudian-based, as Lawrence was fascinated by the Austrianpsychiatrist and the then-emerging study of psychiatry. However, this sexuality is notthe focus of the work. Sons and Loversprimarily deals with two main themes. First is the conflict between the maincharacter, Paul Morel, and his mother, Gertrude Morel. This relationship is asbeautiful as it is destructive.
The nature of their special relationship hasbeen noted as being “Oedipal. “The other theme is attractionand repulsion in love, explored through Paul Morel and his two lovers, Claraand Miriam, who are quite opposites. Clara is a feminist who is married, andMiriam is a sort of shy country girl. The novel begins with GertrudeMorel and her husband Walter, an unhappy marriage that provides so muchconflict in the life of their son Paul. Because of this relationship, Gertrudespends more and more of her time doting on the children, Paul, William, Annieand Arthur.
However, she has the most intimate relationship with her middleson, Paul. This relationship is a focal point for much of the work. As thestory progresses Paul grows from infancy to adulthood. During this time, Pauldiscovers women.
This leads to much and continuous conflict between these women(Clara and Miriam) and Paul’s mother, who feels she is on conflict with themfor Paul’s affection. This conflict is the most basic, underlying idea in thenovel. The conflict has many adverseeffects on Paul’s ability to form long lasting relationships with members ofthe opposite sex. The conflict finally ends with the death of Gertrude. Herdeath is arguably a necessary end to Paul’s continued lack of long lastingrelationships. 2The Morel family as a whole canbe seen as one full of distraught and a family that has been mismanaged.
Most of the family’s struggle isrooted in the love/hate relationship between Walter and Gertrude Morel. Gertrude “always felt a mixture of love and anguish for Walter”(Lawrence 66). One of the largest problems with their whole marriage is thatthey are quite opposite individuals. Walter was brought up with littleeducation or religion and is happy with the conditions of their poverty.
Gertrude, on the other hand, was brought up as a well educated, puritanicalwoman with a natural penchant for bettering herself and a vehement hatred forher socio-economic position. How could it be that these twoopposites attract each other thus? Perhaps this attraction is rooted in thepresence of dual selves within the pair. For example, Gertrude is a Puritan bynature, but a truly sensual being by demeanor. This should mesh quite nicelywith Walter’s boorish appearance and more gentle heart (54).
Despite hisoutward appearance, Morel does truly have a gentle nature. If he did not reallyhave a conscience, he would have left Gertrude out in the cold to freeze afterhe locked her out. Instead, he opened the latch and let her in. He is soashamed by his behavior that he ran quickly to bed in order to avoid his wife. In truth, the conflict is causedby economic problems. Gertrude was devastated by her inability to improve herstation in life.
She cannot do so with Walter as the family’s breadwinner. Shesees his failings as a provider as a total lack of manhood in his character. The only time that she or anyone else in the family sees a hint of redemptionwas when Walter would sing or was “tinkering away in the garden. .
. happy inhis man’s fashion” (Lawrence 20). Gertrude is mostly responsiblefor her children’s problems. At an early age, she teaches them all to repudiatetheir father’s poor education and his pit crew manners. This instills thechildren with a “crippling interdependence” that will lead to greatproblems within the family (Scott 43).
Gertrude drives William to hisdeathbed. She causes him to strive so hard to better himself that he workshimself to death for the attainment of his goals. Gertrude pushes her sons tothe limit by trying to achieve the success that she pines away for by actingvicariously through them (Scott 43). This vicarious living presentsitself most strongly in Paul. It is manifested in an almost Oedipalrelationship between the two. Paul and his mother connect on a very deep level.
So deep, in fact, that Gertrude’s greatest torture upon her death bed isrealizing that she is dying just as Paul may finally be achieving success inthe artistic community. She had begun to lose hope with Paul during his contentyears as a lowly clerk. But, with his acceptance in a respectable profession,he has thrown off the shackles of poverty (Scott 43). One of the most profound effectsof the family’s internal struggle is manifested in Walter’s thirst for beer. Hisostracization from the family unit causes him to seek out the communityprovided by pubs in order to belong. The rest of the family does not see thisas the reason for his drinking, instead blaming the problem on hisirresponsibility (Scott 43).
Thus, the Morel family is caughtin a tempest of conflict. The struggles between Gertrude and Walter are passedon into the children, causing them to resent their father and get dangerouslyclose to their mother. In short, internal struggles, rather than external ones,cause the family’s dysfunction. 3Power struggles are highlightedas well throughout the novel. Paul Morels imprisoning relationship with hismother cripples all his other relationships. Early on it is evident that Mrs.
Morel substitutes attachment fir her sons for the broken connection with herhusband, and what results is her certain domination over Paul in particular. What begins as a warm, wholesome attachment between mother and child laterbecomes shaded with incestuous overtones and ends as the controlling force inPauls life. When Paul is born, his motherhas already turned away from physical responsiveness to her husband, and indeedto everything, except for her love of flowers and the flowers of her womb, herchildren. The movement of the mother away from normal relationships liesheavily on Paul, and caught, as it is in the life cycle of blooming and dyingvegetation, seems doomed toward death. The result for Paul seems to be theinability to respond to the women in his life both sexually andunself-consciously.
With Miriam, his first love,Pauls primary contact is spiritual and cerebral, and the once mutualattraction crumbles into bitterness, hurt and rejection, because neither canrespond to their physical life force or integrate it into their attempted communionof souls. Part of the difficulty in this relationship, Lawrence seems to beimplying, is that Miriams attraction to Paul is attracted, that she rejectsthe spontaneous physical response available to them and prefers the higherlevel of affection and spiritual communion and intellectual interchange. Thisobstruction seems a consequence of her sex, class and environment resulting ina kind of liberalization of womankind through education, a theme that Lawrencecontinues to treat in later novels. When Paul, physically aroused,finds no natural response in the girl who seems to love him, he is confused,helpless, and becomes even cruel.
Unable to assert himself, or even to acceptas natural his unquenched longings he is unable to continue in themental/spiritual relationship with the girlbecause his mother alone alreadyowns his soul. The relationship is ruptured, Pauls personality suffers a kindof tearing or splitting, another favorite image in Lawrence, and in his nextrelationship Paul realizes at some unconscious level he must leave his soulsomewhat free for his mother and participate on a kind of detached physicallevel. Thus, in his relationship withClara, it is the primarily bodily maleness of Paul bonding with the primarilybodily femaleness. Obviously, the danger is to oversimplify the Paul/Miriam andPaul/Clara relationships. It is true that the contact with Clara puts Paul atleast temporarily into richer contact with his own body, his phallicconsciousness, as Lawrence would say, whereas in his sterile relationships withhis mother and Miriam Paul has had to forego this fuller consciousness.
Now heexperiences what he believes is a kind of paradisiacal kind of love andfulfillment. After lovemaking he refers to coming out of some dark current ofunconsciousness to be carried by life in love. Yet, a novice, Paul fears thepowers Clara has over him and finally lets their relationship wither as thedemands of a sick and dying mother call him home. At this time in his life,when Paul seems most aware of his mothers hold on him, when he himself isapparently sucked into the drift toward death at her side, he is drawn intoanother relationship perhaps as fruitless and death signifying, the one withBaxter Dawes. Is this relationship with DawesPauls initiation in homosexual love? It seems so only in the most generalsense.
True, Paul fights bodily with Dawes, often a metaphor for homosexualbonding: an accepted kind of surrogate sexual experience between men. The bloodyand almost unconscious participation in the fight does seem to initiate himinto a more vital awareness of his own physical presence. After Paulrecuperates from this violent loss of a virginity of sorts, a kind of courtshipwith Dawes begins, with Paul visiting the ailing man, bringing gifts, evenshowing affection and setting him up in new lodgings and a job. The Paul/Dawes relationship canbe seen as possibly one in which Paul Morel reencounters the father of hislife, and thus his own masculinity through the presence of a virile, lessspiritual person in whom the dark consciousness reigns.
This analogy seemsplausible considering Pauls efforts at reconciling Dawes and his wife, a kindof substitution for reconciling his own mother and father. But this aspect of therelationship, Paul as reconciler, becoming almost passive and non-participantin the ensuing relationship seems one more way Lawrence symbolizes a truecoming together of persons, as if only through Paul can the broken relationshipcome again to be melded together. In any case, all therelationships in Sons and Lovers seem to involve power struggles: Mrs. Morelwrenches power from her husband by turning from his sexual presence and thendominating, even emasculating her sons; she controls Pauls devotion throughthe imposition of her values and aspirations and thus weights down thatrelationship. Miriam, apparently passive anddevoted to Paul, is in effect constantly trying to assert her will over his. Topossess him, he fears, and that love disintegrates.
Clara accuses Paul ofcontrolling how much of himself he will give to her or takes back of her inreturn, complaining that he cannot or wont come out to her. Moreover, Paulcontrols their relationship time wise, dissolving it when it seems superfluousto him. He also initiates therelationship with Dawes, except for the older mans early attempts to engagehim in combat, thus drawing him out of passivity and finally only allowing himto reassert his rights with Clara under his (Pauls) domination. 4Although the themes in Sons and Lovers are varying and complex, this work by D. H.
Lawrenceis characterized by his presentation and treatment of human sexuality. While hewrote about and described physical love, he also dealt with human sexuality inmore subtle ways. Primarily, he used symbolism to deal with the sexual themesthat were behind his novels. Many of his symbols are based on the work ofAustrian psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud. Lawrence’s use of Freudian psychology waslargely due to his meeting of Freud during the writing of Sons and Lovers (Clark 46).
Lawrence’s symbolism is alsointeresting because much of it is not quite as obvious as one might assume. Many of the symbols used in Sons andLovers are phallic in nature, and are centered on the novel’s main ideathat the phallus has much power over the relationships of men and women. An example of this core thoughtlies in the following passage: The great horse breathedheavily, shifting round its red flanks, and looking suspiciously with itswonderful big eyes upwards from under its lowered head and fallingmane. .
. (Lawrence 211). The horse represents the naturaland unforced power that will cause a rift in Paul and Clara’s relationship, arift that will lead Paul to Miriam. The horse is a classic Freudian phallicsymbol. Thus, Lawrence’s core idea is alluded to. The horse’s unbridled vigourrepresents a rift the influence the phallus will have on Paul and Clara andtheir relationship.
Another phallic symbol used byLawrence is the hen. In one part of Sonsand Lovers, Miriam is afraid of letting a hen peck seed out of her hand. Later, when she overcomes this fear, Paul comes upon Miriam warily feeding thehen and provides comfort during Miriam’s ordeal. Paul provides such phrases as”It wont hurt you” (Lawrence 172) and other supportive phrases thatbring to mind the physical act of love. The hen is representative of thephallic power once again acting upon the man and woman. In this case, a forcedraws the two together.
Besides the kind of sexualsymbolism that has many levels of meaning and importance, is a kind that issuperficial. Lawrence is, perhaps, best known for his use of more blatantsymbolism (Van Ghent 22). This use of sexual symbolism is obvious and not intendedto convey any deep and insightful meanings. This use of symbolism exitsprimarily to provide mood. In the sequence in which Clara and Paul firstconsummate their relationship, Clara’s red carnations drop their petals allover her clothes and on the ground. The representation is obvious: the end ofher virginity.
Lawrence was very fond of blatant symbolism such as this. Sons and Lovers was Lawrence’s first great novel, and many of thedevices he used in its writing became trends in his later works. 5BIBLIOGRAPHY:1. Sons and Lovers, an overall summary, http://www. sparknotes.
com/lit/sonsandlovers/summary2. Sons and LoversOverview, http://www. shs. springfield. k12. il.
us3. The Morels, A Case Study in Dysfunction, http://www. shs. springfield. k12.
il. us4. Eleanor Sullo, D. H Lawrence and the relationships in ‘Sonsand Lovers’, http://www.
essortment. com/in/Literature. Books/index. htm5.
Symbolism in Sonsand Lovers, http://www.shs.springfield.k12.il.us