Sons and Lovers
In the rolling hills and coal-pitted fields of central England, known as the British Midlands, live the
Morels, a poor mining family. The family has just moved down in the world from the nearby village of
Bestwood to the Bottoms, a complex of working-class row houses.
Gertrude Morel is a small, stern woman, pregnant with her third child, Paul, the protagonist of this
novel. The Morels' other children are William and Annie. But unlike his siblings, Paul is not wanted by
his mother. The poverty-stricken household cannot easily handle another hungry mouth to feed. Walter
Morel, Paul's father, is a hard-working coal miner with a lively spirit and a severe drinking problem.
Mr. and Mrs. Morel were initially attracted to each other because they were so different. He is
working-class, sensual, nonintellectual, and fairly irresponsible. His wife is middle-class, pious,
intellectual, and eminently reliable. The passion that held them together in the first glowing months of
their marriage cannot survive their social and moral differences.
When Paul is born, Mrs. Morel is determined to make him feel loved, to compensate for his unwanted
conception. Paul is a feeble, oversensitive child, who seems to be living proof of the shattered love of his
William, the eldest son, is the favorite of the family. He's a great athlete, student, worker, and
companion. He lands a good job in London and gets caught up in the exciting urban life. He becomes
engaged to Louisa Lily Denys Western ("Gyp"), a young woman who is beautiful but not
Meanwhile, Paul gets an office job at Jordan's artificial limb factory in Nottingham. The shop girls,
particularly the hunchbacked Fanny, adore this shy, sweet boy who offers them encouragement and
kindness. He has also become serious about landscape painting.
On a holiday visit to the farm of family friends, Paul meets his first sweetheart, Miriam Leivers. At
first, Miriam means far less to Paul than do the other members of the Leivers family, whom he visits
In the city, William works endlessly to support his fiancee's extravagant whims. He resents Gyp's
frivolity and stupidity but is sexually enthralled by her. She satisfies his passion, without loosening his
mother's hold on his heart and mind. The conflict between William's attraction to Gyp and his devotion to
Mrs. Morel eventually undermines his health. He dies of pneumonia in his cold, lonely London flat
Now all Mrs. Morel's passions and aspirations pour into Paul. As he becomes the center of his
mother's universe, he truly begins to live.
The Leivers become like a second family to Paul. Soon, the daughter Miriam grows closest to the
sensitive, artistic youth. The two share long, idyllic walks through the countryside, talking and reading to
each other. Paul helps Miriam overcome her many physical fears, such as climbing fences and letting the
barnyard chickens eat out of her hand. He teaches her French and algebra, opening up a new, exciting
world. Miriam appeals to Paul's own growing mysticism and creativity and loves nurturing Paul's artistic
growth. They experience an intense relationship but don't know how to express it physically.
As Paul grows into manhood, he finds his abstract, spiritual relationship with Miriam unsatisfactory.
Mrs. Morel, however, is jealous of Miriam's influence over Paul. She fears Miriam will suck the life and
energy out of him with her dreamy mysticism. Paul, in turn, becomes frustrated by Miriam's
otherworldliness. He eventually realizes he wants to have a sexual relationship with her, but can't get up
the courage to make a pass at her. He knows how much she fears sex. Confused and frustrated, Paul starts
to hate Miriam and treat her cruelly.
At the Leivers farm, Paul meets Clara Dawes, a political and social activist who has left her unfaithful
husband. As the relationship between Miriam and Paul becomes more hopeless, his affinity for the older,
sensuous Clara develops. Clara suggests to Paul that Miriam might actually want him as a man and helps
him find the courage to approach Miriam as a lover.
Finally Paul and Miriam make love. The act dissatisfies both of them. Miriam acts as if making love
is an unenjoyable sacrifice she endures for Paul's benefit only. Paul can't stand feeling that his wanting
Miriam as a woman hurts her. He finally follows his mother's advice and ends his affair with Miriam. In
hope of finding an outlet for his intense sexual passions, he turns to Clara.
Paul and Clara have an affair. She satisfies his sensuality without breaking his attachment to his
mother. But Clara, like Miriam, wants to make their relationship permanent, or at least stable. This is
impossible because of Paul's devotion to Mrs. Morel.
Paul comes to befriend Clara's husband, Baxter, who has not hidden his hatred for Paul and even
thrashed him for having an affair with his wife. While Baxter is in the hospital, Paul visits him, then
helps place the broken man in a convalescent home. Meanwhile, Paul's mother is dying of stomach
Neither Paul nor his sister Annie can bear to see their mother in pain. Paul finally gives her an
overdose of morphine to end her suffering. After his mother's death, Paul feels that life isn't worth living.
His relationship with Clara has disintegrated, and he decides to renounce her. Clara, believing she will
never get close to Paul, goes back to Baxter.
Paul remains in deep despair over his mother's death. He can't do anything but mourn and think about
dying. Eventually, his will to live wins out. Paul heads toward the blazing lights of Nottingham and a new
[Sons and Lovers Contents]
- PAUL MOREL
Paul Morel, the protagonist of Sons and Lovers, is based on the youthful D. H. Lawrence. Paul is a
young man in the painful process of growing up. He's also gradually discovering that he's a gifted artist.
Most important to the story, Paul is torn between his passion for two young women, the mystical Miriam
and the sensual Clara, and his unyielding devotion to a possessive mother.
You may see Paul merely as a fellow under the thumb of a dominating mother. Some readers feel that
his feeling for her is more passionate and that his difficulties with Miriam and Clara stem from this
unresolved passion. Only her death frees him at the end. Another view of Paul is that he derives great
strength from his mother and is inspired rather than crippled by his relationship to her. The failure of his
relationship with Miriam, according to this view, is caused more by her horror of physical intimacy, than
by Gertrude Morel's superior place in Paul's affections. How you interpret Paul's relationship with his
mother will have much to do with your view of her character.
Another of Paul's conflicts centers on his apparent hatred for his father. You can see Paul's
abhorrence of Walter Morel's vulgarity and alcoholism, but you can also see his imitation of Walter's
carefree spirit and lust for life. Isn't some of Paul's own brutality to Miriam derived from his father's
behavior? In some people's eyes, masculine virility is only another version of brutality.
Many readers see Paul's inner conflicts as a reflection of his parents' very different personalities and
class backgrounds. He combines his father's working-class simplicity, spontaneity, and sensuality with his
mother's middle-class steadfastness, intellectualism, and social ambition. Paul can be viewed as the
volatile offspring of both the lower and the middle classes.
He can also be seen as a lovable, charismatic character. He's often kind and jovial, especially to his
mother and the shop girls at Jordan's. Paul shares a healthy companionship with other men. It helps him
appreciate the everyday joys of life and escape his brooding tendencies.
There's also a dark, brutal side to Paul. He can be very cruel, particularly to his girlfriends. He can't
bear Miriam Leivers' superspirituality when it interferes with his sexual desires. After she finally gives up
her virginity to him, he leaves her. Given the importance of virginity to an unmarried woman in the early
twentieth century, Paul's treatment of Miriam seems shockingly inconsiderate. Once the proud Clara falls
in love with Paul, he leaves her as well, telling her to go home to her husband. If Paul is such a sensitive,
caring young man, why does he do such cruel things?
Paul is a fascinating mixture of extremes: vitality and despondency, spirituality and sensuality, love
and hate, sensitivity and cruelty. Do you think any of these contradictions are resolved as the story ends?
- GERTRUDE MOREL
Gertrude Morel is one of the most formidable mothers in all of Western literature. To the narrator,
and perhaps to Paul Morel, she is both a giving, selfless nurturer of her children and a possessive tyrant.
This small, resolute woman with luxuriant hair and a grim, determined mouth is the axis from which
her children, particularly William and Paul, spin out into life. She instills them with self-confidence,
social and intellectual ambitions, and a great joy in living. At the same time, she dislikes her sons'
girlfriends and makes it difficult for her sons to find happiness with a mate. Gertrude also lets her sons
know that she's living just for them, placing enormous pressure on their ability to "cut the apron
Mrs. Morel is a character you must watch carefully. She often seems to be doing wonderful things for
her children, but the resulting impact on their lives cripples them. Many readers feel that Mrs. Morel is so
important to William and Paul that all other women come up short when compared to her. These readers
believe that William dies, not of pneumonia, but really because he can't resolve the conflict he feels
between marrying his girlfriend Gyp and remaining devoted to his mother. Paul, too, will have a hard
time feeling satisfied with his lovers. At one point he even says that he'll never find a wife while his
mother lives- nor does he. According to modern psychological theory, as formulated by Freud and others,
Gertrude Morel has replaced her husband with her sons.
Although Mrs. Morel adores her sons, she is certainly capable of hate. We see this in her relationship
with her coarse, uneducated husband and with Paul's first love, Miriam. Gertrude, brought up in the
respectable middle class, can't accept her husband's irresponsibility or drinking habits. As a result, she
writes him out of her life and puts all her passion into the children. As you read the novel you'll have to
decide for yourself if her hatred of Walter Morel is justified. Gertrude's dislike of Miriam can be viewed
as justified or unjustified. Some readers agree with Gertrude that Miriam tries to suck all the energy out of
Paul's life and make him into a disembodied spirit. Other readers feel that Gertrude's dislike of Miriam is
selfish. She fears the young girl will take her son away from her.
Although Gertrude Morel makes it difficult for Paul to find a suitable mate, she clearly doesn't want
him left alone when she dies. She wants him to find satisfaction in work and marriage. Gertrude feels he'll
achieve this by marrying a lady and becoming a respectable, successful middle-class husband. But her idea
of a suitable lifestyle may not be what Paul actually needs or desires. Mrs. Morel is right, however, to
discern that her son needs a wife who equals him in strength, intelligence, and warmth.
While Mrs. Morel comes across as icy and overly pious at times, Paul tells you that at one time she
had known true passion with her husband and that it awakened her need for a full, vital life. She hates to
give up living, even when she's terminally ill. Mrs. Morel wants to cling to life and realize her social and
intellectual aspirations through Paul. When she finally dies, his emptiness seems total. Paul has been both
blessed and cursed with such an extraordinary mother.
- WALTER MOREL
Walter Morel is Paul's rough, sensual, hard-drinking father. In many ways, he is his wife's opposite.
Walter is from a lower-class mining family. He speaks the local dialect in contrast to his wife's refined
English. He loves to drink and dance, practices that Gertrude, a strict Congregationalist, considers sinful.
There are two ways to look at Walter Morel's failure to be a good husband, father, and family
breadwinner. You can see him as a man broken by an uncaring, brutal industrial system and an overly
demanding wife. You can also see Walter as his own worst enemy, inviting self-destruction through drink
You learn a good deal about Walter's good and bad qualities in Sons and Lovers, While Lawrence
seems to concentrate on the character's violence and irresponsibility, he also gives you a picture of
Walter's warm, lively, loving ways. The key scenes of family happiness revolve around the time when
Walter stays out of the pubs and works around the house, hugging his children and telling them tall
stories of life down in the mines.
- MIRIAM LEIVERS
Miriam Leivers, Paul's teenage friend and sweetheart, was modeled after Lawrence's own young love,
Jessie Chambers. As Jessie was with Lawrence, Miriam is Paul's devoted helpmate in his artistic and
spiritual quests. Although beautiful, she takes no pleasure in her physical attributes. Her whole life is
geared toward heaven and a mystical sense of nature.
Paul and Miriam's first bond is their mutual love of nature. Sons and Lovers tells of their many idyllic
country walks. However, whereas Miriam wants to absorb nature, Paul just wants to live in harmony with
it. Later, Paul will come to feel, as his mother does, that Miriam wants to absorb his life as well.
Miriam is a loner. By her own choice, she has few friends. When Paul thinks that perhaps they should
marry for appearance's sake, she's mortally offended. Though Miriam is physically and socially timid, she
refuses to live her life in accordance with superficial standards of etiquette.
Most of Paul's family and friends feel put off by Miriam. She's too intellectual and otherworldly even
to know how to hold an ordinary conversation. She lacks the normal joys of living. Her life is an extreme
of agony or ecstasy. This lack of normalcy and plain fun is one of the things Paul hates about her.
There are two warring sides to Miriam- her love of Paul Morel and her resistance to her sexual
feelings toward him. Her mother taught her that sex is one of the burdens of marriage, and though she
doesn't want to believe it, she can't help but listen to the woman who's shaped her life. When Miriam
finally gives in to Paul, she does it in a spirit of self-sacrifice that disappoints both of them. Miriam's
inability to enjoy sex makes her an incomplete person in the Lawrentian world, where sex as well as
spirituality is necessary to an individual's fulfillment.
Miriam is a very complex character. At times you feel that Lawrence himself is trying to understand
exactly what she's like. The narrator, like Paul, fluctuates between pitying and condemning her. But
because there are so many opposing elements to Miriam, you have an opportunity to figure out who she
really is and what she wants, through your own investigation and interpretation.
- CLARA DAWES
Clara Dawes is the sensuous older woman who comes to replace Miriam as the love interest in Paul's
life. It is with Clara that Paul learns the importance of sex as humanity's deepest link with nature and the
Clara is depicted as a new twentieth-century woman. She's a feminist before it was fashionable.
Determined to be independent, she leaves her husband, earns her own living, and has an extramarital
affair with Paul. Clara can be viewed as representative of the many post-Victorian women who rebelled
against the traditional image of woman as the "weaker sex." Clara is extraordinarily
intelligent, with a good critical mind. But you get little demonstration of this aspect of her personality,
since the story concentrates on her physical attractiveness to Paul.
Clara, unlike Miriam, is bursting with a lusty, animal passion. She is Paul's match for fearlessness,
sensuality, and intelligence. At the same time, she lacks Miriam's spirituality and sensitivity. Without
these qualities, can she stimulate Paul's work as an artist?
At first Clara acts condescending to Paul. He's convinced she hates all men. She's certainly bitter
about male/female relationships. Her husband Baxter brutalized her and was unfaithful. Does this mean
that she hates men, or that she's had an unsatisfying married life?
Later, when Paul delivers a message to Clara at her mother's home, you see quite another side of this
proud, independent woman. She's humiliated and exhausted by her sweatshop labor, as she and her
mother spend grueling hours making lace. Even though they have the freedom to work at home rather
than on an assembly line at one of Nottingham's many factories, these women are still exploited,
underpaid victims of the industrial system.
Paul helps Clara get back her old overseer's job at Jordan's, and they become good friends through his
generosity. Their subsequent love affair gives them both a new, expansive sense of life. With Clara, Paul
finds the sensual fulfillment he can't have with either Miriam or his mother. Paul awakens Clara's
sexuality, something she missed with her husband.
Some readers feel that Clara is the least successful of the major characters in Sons and Lovers. They
believe she comes across merely as a vehicle for Paul's passion and as a very shallow caricature of the
"new woman." How do you think Lawrence succeeds in drawing Clara Dawes? How does he
- WILLIAM MOREL
William is Paul's older brother. He's based on Lawrence's own brother Ernest, who was the pride and
joy of his family. Like his fictional counterpart, Ernest died in London at an early age.
William is robust and merry like his father. He's also intellectual and responsible like his mother. He's
Gertrude's darling because he distinguishes himself early and remains devoted to her. When he goes off
to a promising job in London, he meets and falls in love with a shallow-minded beauty, Louisa Lily Denys
Western ("Gyp"). She satisfies his passion and fulfills his aspiration to marry someone from a
higher social class, but leaves his mind and soul unfulfilled. Some readers think that William chooses
such an unsuitable mate because he fears having a woman who might usurp his mother's place in his
heart. Lawrence, in an unpublished foreword to Sons and Lovers, ascribes William's death from
pneumonia to his internal struggle between his physical passion for a young, frivolous woman and his
true love for his mother.
- LOUISA LILY DENYS WESTERN ("GYP")
Gyp is William Morel's fiancee. She's a flighty, foolish, but beautiful young woman whose family has
fallen upon hard times. Even though she is forced to work as a secretary, Gyp still treats people like the
Morels as inferiors.
- THE OTHER MOREL CHILDREN
Annie Morel is Paul's older sister. She becomes a schoolteacher and marries her childhood friend,
Leonard. Arthur Morel is Paul's younger brother. He's much like Walter Morel, unintellectual and fun-
loving. He marries Beatrice Wyld, a friend of Annie's.
- THE LEIVERS
The Leivers are Miriam's family. They provide a home-away-from-home for Paul. Paul is very close to
Mrs. Leivers, a flighty, mystical woman very different from his pragmatic mother. He's also friendly with
the strong, rationalistic Edgar, Miriam's oldest brother. The Leivers family give Paul much support.
[Sons and Lovers Contents]
Sons and Lovers is set in the British Midlands at the turn of the twentieth century. This is a region in
central England that is highly industrialized. Factories, coal pits, and ugly row houses are abundant. Yet,
Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest is close by the busy industrial city of Nottingham, where Paul works, and
the river Trent swirls its way from the city through the wide-open country hills and vales. Sons and
Lovers constantly contrasts the sensuous, natural environment with that of the cold, drab monuments of
industrial town and city life.
Paul grows up in the vicinity of Bestwood, a mining village within an hour's train ride of
Nottingham, a large, factory-lined city. Bestwood, which is based on Lawrence's birthplace of Eastwood,
is a conglomerate of company-owned miners' dwellings. The homes are ugly and impractical; the adjacent
areas, dirty and crowded. The town is surrounded by coal pits, lush green valleys, and old farms, such as
Willey Farm, where Paul spends a great deal of time.
In Sons and Lovers, natural landscapes are the true home of human sexuality. Most of the lovemaking
scenes take place out-of-doors, near rivers, in forests, by the sea. Nature represents life's beauty and
fertility. Flower imagery abounds in this novel. You'll see how Lawrence uses flowers as both spiritual and
The industrial cityscapes in Sons and Lovers serve to show us how modern technological life ravages
people, depriving them of their dignity, sense of beauty, and natural drives. You'll notice this particularly
in the Jordan factory scenes and at Clara's home, where she's a "slave" to the cottage-industry
of lace-making. Her job is quite similar to ones in the computer industry, where people are often paid
minimum wages to make various computer parts at home. At the same time, town life means human
community, with its ongoing survivalist drive. You'll see at the end of the novel that Paul walks away
from the dark, uninhabited country fields and toward the bright city lights. Some readers see this act as
Paul's walking away from death and toward life. Consider this interpretation in light of Lawrence's
comparison of city and country. Is it consistent to identify the city with life and the country with death?
Here are some major themes of Sons and Lovers. They will be discussed in depth in "The
Story" section of this guide.
- SONS, MOTHERS, AND THE OEDIPUS COMPLEX
You can look at Sons and Lovers as a story of the unnatural devotion of Paul Morel to his possessive
mother. Many readers see the novel as a fictional study of the "Oedipus complex," described
by Lawrence's contemporary, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud took the old Greek
myth of Oedipus, in which the hero unknowingly kills his father and marries his own mother, as a
reflection of man's subconscious sexual desires. Freud rebelled against the Victorian idea that children
are asexual. He believed that a child's earliest sexual attraction (at about three to five years of age) is to the
parent of the opposite sex. Freud concluded his theory with the warning that if a boy did not eventually
suppress this attraction and begin to identify with his father, he would never be able to transfer his early
love for his mother to a suitable partner.
Paul Morel seems very much like a man suffering from an Oedipus complex. At times Paul's
relationship with Gertrude is disturbingly passionate. He hates his father and dreams of living exclusively
with his mother. Paul has grave problems finding a satisfying relationship with any woman other than his
mother. The novel traces his unsuccessful attempts to reconcile spiritual love, sexual passion, and filial
devotion. Mrs. Morel encourages her son's dependence and is envious of Miriam, her rival for his
Along with the Oedipus complex, you'll want to consider the positive aspects of Paul's relationship
with his mother. She encourages his art, education, and social advancement. In many ways, Mrs. Morel
embodies the Victorian concept of the ideal mother. She lives for her sons and will do anything to see
them make their way in the world. Paul's life on his own is just beginning at the novel's end. Do you think
Mrs. Morel's influence on her son will prove to be for better or for worse?
- MAN/WOMAN LOVE
Sons and Lovers is an investigation of love between men and women. Paul has a spiritual love with
Miriam and a sexual one with Clara. Both relationships leave him unfulfilled because Paul needs a love
that combines both spiritual and sexual elements in one woman. Lawrence clarified and developed his
ideas on the importance of man/woman love in his later novels. Still, in this novel you get a strong
feeling that survival in modern, industrial society depends on strong heterosexual relationships. Such a
relationship is only possible when both man and woman are spiritually and physically vital. Paul Morel's
unfulfilled quest for this sort of relationship is a major theme of Sons and Lovers.
Sex is a bone of contention between Paul and his two loves, Miriam and Clara. Both women want a
personal, emotional relationship, whereas Paul views sex as rather impersonal. The woman isn't exactly
an object, but a catalyst for man's mystical communion with nature. Clara and Miriam both feel that Paul
doesn't make love to them as individuals, but as symbols of womanhood. They feel used, while Paul fears
they're trying to possess and smother him. Lawrence felt that modern, industrial life caused such sexual
warfare between men and women. Sex, which the author viewed as a healthy expression of man's link to
God and nature, had been perverted by Victorian morality and the dehumanization of mechanized,
Lawrence's sense of sex as good was alien to the Victorian belief that it was evil and beastly. Sex was
not supposed to be a topic of conversation between a man and a good woman. The character of Miriam is
a depiction of repressed sexuality common in the Victorian woman. Many other writers were encouraged
by Lawrence's bold descriptions of the sexual act and continued his revolutionary work in their own
- THE MATURATION OF AN ARTIST
Sons and Lovers tells the story of an individual growing up to become a talented painter and a deeply
sensitive, troubled young man. The novel traces Paul's discovery of his need and ability to paint. Art for
Paul is inspired by nature and women. The beauty of the countryside stimulates his creativity, as do the
gentle, devoted encouragement of Miriam, the sensuality of Clara, and the protective, sensible nurturing
of Mrs. Morel.
As the novel progresses, Paul becomes more and more confident in his paintings. He starts to believe
he'll make a great artist someday. What's most interesting about Paul as an artist is the way he sees
things. He imbues raindrops, birds, and wildflowers with a supernatural vitality. They appear to him like
miraculous affirmations of brilliant, individualistic lives struggling against eternal darkness and chaos.
The artist's mission in life, according to Lawrence, is to help others see beyond the commonplace and
into life's mystery and wonder. At Jordan's factory, Paul draws the local shop girls in such a way as to
make each of them appear unique. He makes the girls see their own inner beauty and specialness.
- CLASS CONFLICT
You can see Sons and Lovers as a novel that epitomizes the conflict between the unskilled, ill-
educated working class and the rigidly moral, emotionally and sexually inhibited middle class. Walter
Morel, a symbol of the working class, has the positive qualities of instinct, warmth, and spontaneity. His
wife, Gertrude, a symbol of the middle class, embodies their work ethic and their intellectual and social
aspirations. Gertrude and Walter ought to complement one another with their very different positive
points, but in fact they, like the lower and middle classes, can't get along. In Sons and Lovers, the lower
class's hatred of snobbery and phony propriety and the middle class's concern with money and social
advancement cause Gertrude and Walter to come to blows. Lawrence in his own life and later novels
sought a way of bringing these two social realms into harmony.
Sons and Lovers can also be viewed as a working-class novel, a novel that focuses on the everyday
lives, trials, and tribulations of unskilled, poor laborers. Through Lawrence's words, you get a vivid
picture of what it was like to be a miner or a factory worker around the turn of the century.
- INDUSTRIAL LIFE VS. NATURE
We have a sense in Sons and Lovers that modern industrial life perverts people. They're cut off from
nature and their own instinctive sexuality. Industrialism and its rigid moral code enslaves nature and
discounts the sensual and aesthetic needs of humans. As you read the novel, pay close attention to the
narrator's description of Jordan's factory and the way that Clara and Paul, on a brief escape from work,
view the cityscape as a scar on the countryside. Factory life with its enforced confinement and long
working hours isolates man from the natural world that is his true connection to the life force. Flowers,
water, and other natural images are identified with sensuality and beauty, while the mines bury the fields
in dust and darkness.
- OPPOSING FORCES: LIGHT AND DARK
Sons and Lovers deals constantly in oppositions, such as light and dark. Lawrence believed that
oppositions in the grand scheme of things form a completeness, rather than a vicious, irreconcilable
struggle. Light stands for rational life and day-to-day reality. It is most strikingly associated with Mrs.
Morel. Darkness symbolizes the wonder and mystery of existence, as well as the human subconscious and
brute instinct. This quality is exemplified in Walter Morel, who every day descends deep into the earth.
To Lawrence, light and dark, like life and death, opened naturally into each other. When you come to
William's death in Chapter 6, you'll notice that the coffin is brought from the dark into the family's lighted
parlor. Lawrence, always ill and close to dying himself, felt that death was a natural extension of life and
should be treated as such. To deny death, he believed, was truly to deny life.
Lawrence uses a combination of realistic description and poetic images to create the world of Sons
and Lovers. Realism is a style of writing that attempts to describe in a true-to-life manner concrete,
everyday events. Poetic narrative, on the other hand, serves to lift life out of its normality, making it seem
supernatural or symbolic of universal themes outside ordinary daily experience. Poetic narrative achieves
this feat by using word comparisons, metaphors and similes, many adjectives, or elaborate and rhythmical
language, rather than everyday speech.
The realism in Sons and Lovers is strongest in the first half of the novel, where the narrator describes
the Morel family's day-to-day existence. Mr. Morel hammers away at work, and the children help him
along with his tasks. Mrs. Morel goes out marketing and comes home with a load of domestic treasures.
The narrator also uses realistic detail to great effect when he presents the miners dividing their weekly pay
in the Morel home. The men's gestures are carefully described in almost photographic detail. The realism
of Sons and Lovers gives you an accurate picture of working-class life at the turn of the century. You
come to know, almost as if you were there, the pains and joys of their hard lives.
Lawrence's poetry comes to the forefront in his descriptions of nature, where, for example, vivid
sunsets and blazing rosebushes stand out against darkening skies. The poetic portions of Sons and Lovers
seem to make the common lives of its characters miraculous and heroic.
Many times Lawrence uses a pattern that starts in realism, expands into lyrical poetic narrative, and
then puts you back on your feet with a return to realism. You'll notice this particularly in the scenes
between Paul and his women- his mother, Miriam, and Clara. He'll start them off on a normal walk or
conversation and then heighten the language to give you a sense of their souls' communion. The poetic
style serves the purpose of evoking an emotional response in the reader rather than advancing the plot's
action. As you read Sons and Lovers, try to discover where the different styles are used and what each of
them offers. How do they enhance each other and create what's unique about the novel as a whole?
Lawrence also uses dialect to accurately convey his working-class characters' conversations. The
Midlands dialect is quite different from standard English and you may have some difficulty
understanding its slang terms, as well as its contractions of words. The dialect often drops beginning
consonants of words and employs the old-fashioned "thee" and "thou" for
"you." To Lawrence, this sort of language was more warm and intense than standard English.
Walter Morel speaks in dialect, emphasizing his social background and his sensuality. Gertrude Morel, on
the other hand, speaks the standard English of the educated middle class. You'll notice that Paul speaks
both "languages," as well as French, which he teaches Miriam. Paul uses dialect for sensuous
love with the sexually uninhibited Clara and for flirtation with Beatrice. He reserves proper English for
Miriam and his prim mother.
POINT OF VIEW
Sons and Lovers is told from the point of view of an omniscient, or all-knowing, narrator. Most of the
time, the narrator tells you more about the characters than they themselves know. This helps you accept
and understand actions that might otherwise seem arbitrary or unmotivated.
Since this book is highly autobiographical, many readers identify the narrator with Lawrence, who
seems to be looking back and trying to come to terms with his own youthful problems and feelings
through the character of Paul Morel. The narrator's subjectivity about Paul shows through. At times he
sympathizes with Paul, and at other times he condemns him. You may find the other characters judged in
a similar way. Some readers find the narrator's changing opinion indicative of Lawrence's own confusion
over his various past relationships. Others feel that the narrator is simply reflecting how people naturally
change their perspective depending on the circumstances.
At times, the narrator seems to step aside and allow the characters to speak for themselves in passages
of dialogue. You may feel closer to them when the narrator doesn't guide your view of their motivations.
But don't forget that the narrator is choosing the speech and actions to be revealed, in order to influence
Sometimes, instead of stepping aside, the narrator seems almost to take over a character, even if the
result is at odds with that character's personality. For instance, when Gertrude Morel is locked out of her
house in Chapter 1, she seems mystically transported by her experience with the daylilies. But isn't she
really "out of character"? Some would say that the narrator (or author?) has stepped into her
shoes in such a totally subjective way that he reveals his own artistic and spiritual nature rather than
Gertrude's. Others might feel this is the only way to depict a character's hidden inner feelings.
Sons and Lovers has fifteen episodic chapters, divided into Parts One and Two. Part One deals with
the Morel family home life, emphasizing social and historical influences. Paul, the protagonist, is not yet
the main focus of the novel. The core of Part One is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Morel's failed marriage and
the promise of son William's success in life. Part One ends with the death of William and Mrs. Morel's
new hope in her younger son, Paul.
Part Two begins the story of Sons and Lovers in terms of Paul's perceptions. Part Two, or the story of
Paul's life, can only begin once the favored son William dies and Paul takes his place in his mother's
heart. This section of the novel concentrates more on the conflicting inner feelings of its characters than
on the straightforward, action- and detail-oriented realism of Part One. It also focuses on the battle
between Miriam and Mrs. Morel for Paul's soul.
Sons and Lovers moves chronologically from before Paul's birth through his life as a young man and
ends with his mourning the death of his mother. Flashbacks are often used, particularly in Part One,
where Lawrence deals with the Morel parents' premarital backgrounds and Paul's early childhood
Part Two involves a series of repeated attempts of male/female unions, exemplified by Paul's
relationship first with Miriam, then with Clara. Many readers feel that these relationships take forever to
resolve and that when they do, the result is quite unsatisfactory. Other readers believe that the
monotonous repetition of the failed Miriam/Paul relationship theme is deliberate. They feel that Sons and
Lovers is structured like ocean waves. There's a rhythmic return pattern to various themes, such as the
decay of Mr. and Mrs. Morel's love after it has reached its climax. This serves to show that there are no
clear-cut resolutions in life. People make the same mistakes again and again. Part Two can be considered
a journey from the known, realistic world of Part One into the realm of the unknown, where there are no
definitive solutions. Part Two explores the subconscious and mysterious forces that motivate people.
Lawrence saw this sort of exploration as far more important than providing his audience with resolutions.
THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
[Sons and Lovers Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com, Inc. is prohibited.