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Sons and Lovers
D.H. Lawrence


THE NOVEL

THE PLOT

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 mismatched parents.

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 bright.

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 frequently.

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 (apartment).

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 cancer.

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 life.

[Sons and Lovers Contents]


THE CHARACTERS

  • 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 strings."

    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 and irresponsibility.

    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 cosmos.

    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 fail?

  • 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]


OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

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 sexual symbols.

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?

THEMES

Here are some major themes of Sons and Lovers. They will be discussed in depth in "The Story" section of this guide.

  1. 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 affection.

    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?

  2. 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, industrial life.

    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 novels.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

STYLE

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 your reactions.

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.

STRUCTURE

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 memories.

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 STORY

THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES


ECC [Sons and Lovers Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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