Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers

Help / FAQ

printable study guide online download notes summary

Sons and Lovers
D.H. Lawrence

THE STORY, continued


Arthur Morel whimsically decides to join the army. The very next day, however, he's begging his mother to buy him out. She tries, against Paul and Walter's wishes, but it can't be done. Why do you think Paul and Walter want Arthur to pay for his impetuousness?

Paul's life is now brimming with success. He wins two top art awards, and he feels particularly proud of the honor because it will further distinguish him in his mother's eyes.

One day Paul runs into Miriam and a tall, striking blonde woman. He's immediately impressed with this woman, who is so defiant and sensual compared to the reserved, brooding Miriam. This is Clara Dawes, who, along with her husband Baxter, will play a crucial role in Paul's life.

Clara is separated from Baxter. She is an advocate of equal rights for women and is reputed to be exceptionally intelligent. Paul knows her husband, a blacksmith for Jordan's who has disliked him since they first met at the factory. He resents Paul's cool and critical gaze, the dispassionate air of the artist.

The narrator tells you that Miriam cultivates Clara's friendship because Clara used to work at Jordan's. Through Clara, Miriam hopes to get an insider's view of Paul's clerical work.

Why is Miriam so curious about every aspect of Paul's life? It's possible she lives vicariously through him rather than making her own way in the world. It's also possible that she wants to enrich her knowledge of his everyday life so she can be a better, more understanding friend.

The first thing Miriam asks Paul on his next visit to the farm is his opinion of Mrs. Dawes. Paul is evasive, even critical. He says she's a terrible dresser but good-looking and passionate. He fears she holds a grudge against men.

Why do you think Miriam brings up the subject of Clara? It's possible she's noticed his attraction for this older woman and wants him to admit it. It may also be that Miriam is interested in testing Paul. By presenting him with a sensual alternative to herself, he'll have to choose between what she considers his "higher" (spiritual) and "lower" (sexual) desires. Miriam may even have an unconscious urge to bring Paul and Clara together sexually in order to take that dreaded pressure off herself.

The strife inherent in Paul and Miriam's love relationship escalates in this chapter. You can feel the growing frustration of their love as they repeatedly fail to cross the sexuality barrier. What do you think causes them to have so much difficulty expressing their love for one another? Perhaps the biggest problem in their relationship is Paul's attachment to his mother, who hates Miriam. He feels desperately divided by the two women in his life and starts to view himself as a helpless casualty of their battle.

Is Paul just a victim of Mrs. Morel and Miriam's conflict, or is he an instigator as well? Paul could demand that Mrs. Morel accept Miriam, rather than deferring to her cold attitude toward the girl. But Paul may enjoy being the center of their attention. Being fought over can make a person feel quite special.

One evening Walter Morel and his fellow miners reckon their week's earnings.

NOTE: "Reckoning" is the term used by coal miners when dividing up their wages. The miners worked in groups at an assigned stall, or portion of the mine. Mr. Morel is a butty, or foreman. He collects the money his particular stall has earned for the week and shares it with his coworkers. The money varied from week to week, depending on the size of the coal haul. This made mining a financially unstable occupation.

The reckoning scene shows you how deeply Lawrence knew and loved his people. The miners carefully divide the funds down to the last cent with absolute fairness. You see how incredibly poor these laborers are. Still, what shines through are their humor, generosity, mutual trust, and dignified honesty. As much as Lawrence aspired to better himself, he never lost his respect for the common people he grew up with.

Unfortunately, Morel's fairness with the men doesn't extend to his own family. As Mrs. Morel bitterly notes, he holds back too much of his wages for his personal drinking allowance. He's obviously expecting Paul's salary to compensate for the loss. Gertrude attacks Walter for being so selfish, but Paul intervenes. He wants to give his mother his money, just as if he were her husband. Paul also desires to avoid more domestic strife- money is nothing compared to peace and quiet.

One day while Paul's parents are out, Miriam comes to visit. He's seen little of her recently because of his mother's disapproval of their relationship. Paul totally forgets the bread that is baking and lets it burn. While Miriam gets the full blame by his mother for his inattentiveness to domestic duties, she isn't really the only one at fault. Beatrice Wyld, a young schoolteacher friend of Annie's, has dropped by. As she and Paul flirt, the bread burns.

NOTE: Paul speaks in dialect with Beatrice. You'll notice throughout Sons and Lovers that Paul reserves dialect for his working-class friends and, most importantly, for women toward whom he feels a sensual attraction. He speaks the warm, lilting Midlands dialect with earthy Beatrice and later with Clara Dawes. On the other hand, Paul uses standard English exclusively with the prim Miriam and his class- conscious mother. Why?

After Beatrice leaves, Paul gives Miriam a French lesson. He has her translate Baudelaire.

NOTE: Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a poet known for his erotic, mystical language. He was a member of the Symbolist School, a group of French writers who reacted against realism by concentrating on metaphysical issues.

Miriam dislikes Baudelaire, probably because of the sexual nature of his mysticism, which is deeply opposed to her asexual brand of spirituality. Is Paul trying to seduce her through the poet's language? Think about how this scene follows directly on the heels of his blatant flirtation with Beatrice. You should also notice how strongly Paul and Miriam pride themselves on knowing French. It's a sign of upper-class refinement and education to know this language. Their knowledge of French also symbolizes their secret, special intimacy. Few other people in this mining and farming community would understand it.

Later that night, Mrs. Morel comes home sick and accusingly lays the burnt loaves on the table. To Gertrude, the ruined bread clearly demonstrates that her son couldn't care less about his mother when he's around Miriam. Paul feels guilty about the bread and even guiltier about his attraction to Miriam. Mrs. Morel attacks his relationship with the young Leivers girl, implying that it means Paul no longer loves or needs his aging mother. Paul denies loving Miriam. Can you believe him? He seems to both love and hate her. Paul proclaims that his true love is his mother, but, in fact, she's growing old and he needs a woman closer to his own age to share his work and his dreams. But Mrs. Morel's fierce maternal love wins him over. Whimpering, she tells him, "I've never had a husband- not really-." Paul kisses her throat and caresses her hair, as if he really were her husband. This frankly sexual episode between Paul and his mother has led many readers to call it the most blatantly Oedipal part in the book.

Suddenly Walter Morel, who had been drinking, enters and catches his wife and son in a close embrace. Paul and his father then find something to squabble over- a tasty treat Mrs. Morel has brought for Paul. But in reality, the quarrel is about the rivalry of father and son over Mrs. Morel as wife and mother. Mrs. Morel stops the fight by nearly fainting, and they all go off to bed. Despite Paul's objections, his mother and father go together.

Paul is too tormented to sleep. He acknowledges that his love for his mother is everything. Why do you think Paul cannot realize that this unnatural devotion to his mother is keeping him from growing up and loving someone his own age?


It's spring, the season when Paul Morel's blood runs hottest. As in past springs, he's drawn to Miriam by his passion. But again, his sexual frustration leads him to torment and despise her.

Poor Miriam can only envision herself as a martyr to Paul's love and art. She hasn't the self- confidence to see herself as his equal. She doesn't really believe she can be what Paul demands of her. While Paul insists he wants her to be her true independent self, can you be so sure he does? He is often selfish and demanding when it comes to Miriam. He would probably like her to be the self he thinks she should be.

At Easter, Paul is in a particularly nasty mood. He accuses Miriam of sucking the life out of everything with her spirituality. He criticizes her for nearly devouring the new-sprung daffodils with her caresses.

NOTE: The women in Sons and Lovers are frequently identified with flowers and gardening. Miriam tends to smother flowers with her religious adoration, while Mrs. Morel nurtures them to become healthy and strong. Later, you will see how Lawrence uses the symbolism of flowers with Clara Dawes.

Although Paul continues to visit Willey Farm, he keeps telling Miriam they should see less of each other. He claims that he doesn't love her, that she should find someone else. Why do you think Paul torments Miriam? Those we love often suffer the brunt of our confusion and frustration. Paul certainly doesn't act as if he has no love for Miriam. So why does he continually push her away? Again, you have to look at his relationship with his mother, whom he sees as the only stable, substantial person in his life. Everyone else, including Miriam, is comparatively abstract and unreliable. As Miriam sacrifices herself to Paul, he in turn sacrifices himself to his mother. What other reasons can you think of for his cruelty to Miriam?

A week later, he returns to Willey Farm, singing another tune. Paul has the idea that it's wrong for them to spend so much time together without being engaged. People will talk. Miriam, in rare defiance, says she doesn't care what others think. She really is less dependent on social approval than is Paul. Suddenly, after again rejecting her, Paul asks Miriam to marry him.

Paul makes his proposal out of desperation, not love. Miriam senses this and refuses. She sticks to her convictions, not wanting to live by other people's standards of propriety. She resents how they interfere with the unique relationship she shares with Paul. It's also possible that Miriam refuses because marriage means sexual relations, which she's terrified of. Once again, they decide to see less of each other.

NOTE: Are you becoming a little tired of Paul's running back and forth to Miriam like a lost puppy? Are you bored with their unconsummated passion? Lawrence deliberately repeats their standoff again and again. In this way he shows you the agony of their impossible love. You begin to want them to separate even more than they do.

Miriam doesn't brood as Paul expects. He pictures women as having no active outlets for their emotions, but Miriam is hardly as self-destructive as her friend thinks. She's firm in her belief that Paul needs her to realize his potential and create his paintings. Instead of brooding, Miriam resolves to find out what he wants that she can't give him. She decides to test him by tempting him with a more sensuous woman, Clara Dawes. Miriam is rather confident that the spiritual love she shares with Paul will conquer any physical attraction Clara might have for him.

Miriam arranges for Clara and Paul to meet at Willey Farm. Clara is curt and haughty with the gawking, unusually polite Paul. He thinks Clara hates men. But Clara says she's just asserting her right to be free and independent. Paul has never met a woman quite as outspoken as Clara.

You see a softer picture of Clara as she, Miriam, and Paul go for a walk in the country. They meet a lonely, middle-aged spinster who treats her horse almost like a lover. Paul complains that the woman makes him uncomfortable, but Clara is aware of the poor woman's loneliness. Clara herself is thirty and may see the spinster as a vision of her future self. She tells Paul simply that the woman needs a man. Perhaps, Clara is speaking about her own needs, too. Paul senses she is unhappy.

One day Paul takes his mother on an outing to Lincoln Cathedral. When his mother has difficulty climbing a hill, Paul is both saddened and angry to see she is aging. "Why can't a man have a young mother?" he cries. Why is Paul upset that his mother is getting on in years? It's possible he wants mother and lover in one woman. Mrs. Morel can no longer keep up with him on his adventures, and her looks are fading. Meanwhile, Paul's sexual impulses are quickening. Significantly, he tells his mother about Clara Dawes, as if she's to be his next girlfriend. Mrs. Morel is concerned that Paul might be taking up with a woman seven years older than himself. She doesn't, however, seem to care that Clara, though separated from her husband, is still a married woman. Why do you think Mrs. Morel suddenly becomes so morally liberal? Could Clara's marriage make her less of a threat to Mrs. Morel's closeness to Paul? It's also probable that, having experienced passion once with her own husband, Mrs. Morel understands that Paul needs to fulfill himself sexually. So as not to lose or hurt her son, she, like Miriam, may unconsciously encourage his involvement with Clara.

As Paul struggles into manhood, other romantic unions are blooming in the Morel household. Annie, now a schoolteacher, decides to marry Leonard. Arthur, fresh out of the army, starts seriously courting the flirtatious and lively Beatrice Wyld, whom you met in the last chapter.

Paul and Mrs. Morel feel an incredible emptiness when Annie marries and leaves home. Remember how bleak all the Morels felt when William went off to London? Regardless of their differences, the Morels are an extraordinarily tightly knit family.

Paul vows never to do as Annie's done and forsake his dear mother for a mate. But Gertrude, despite her possessiveness, doesn't want him left all alone when she dies. Paul's somewhat childish solution is to refrain from marrying till he's a fat middle-aged man and his mother's in her seventies.

Paul withdraws even more from Miriam as his mother gets older, sicker, and more in need of his moral and financial support. As Paul pulls away from Miriam, he drifts toward Clara. At Willey Farm, poor Miriam must watch Paul and Clara's relationship bloom as they leap fences and race down hills with a physical daring that's beyond her.

Paul hates yet feels sorry for Miriam now. He sees her only as an unbearable conscience he wants to forget. Finally, he writes her a farewell letter telling her that their spiritual love is not enough for a good relationship. He adds that they have no possibility for physical passion and calls Miriam a mystic, holy nun.

The old pattern of breaking up and making up has continued between Paul and Miriam. After this letter, however, the strength of their relationship, at least in Paul's mind, diminishes. The narrator tells you that the letter sealed the end of the first phase of Paul's sensual life, where all is abstract possibility and unrealized passion. He's still a virgin but you sense strongly that he won't remain one much longer.


Paul may be suffering over the complications of sex and love, but his professional and artistic life is flourishing. He's doing well at his job and also wins first prize in a prestigious Nottingham art competition.

Mrs. Morel, of course, is delighted, exclaiming, "I knew we should do it!" And Paul loves sharing his honors with his mother. Even Mr. Morel is impressed. He can't believe his son has actually earned money from his "frivolous" hobby.

Except for the father, the Morel family is moving up in the world, largely because of Paul's painting and his success in designing lace patterns. Paul now goes to exciting middle-class parties because of his special artist status that allows him to cross social barriers. But Mr. Morel, still crude and vulgar, feels more and more an outsider in his own family.

Regardless of his newly expanded social horizons, Paul nevertheless feels proud to be part of the common people. He assures his mother it's the working class that has life, vitality, and warmth. But the wise Mrs. Morel doesn't let her son delude himself with his working-class idealism. She knows that Paul actually prefers being with the middle classes. He loves their concern with intellectual matters. The lower classes have neither the time nor money to luxuriate in philosophical meanderings.

Mrs. Morel presses middle-class virtues upon her son because she wants him to be part of its comfortable life-style. To her, this means marrying a lady and having money and professional prestige. Through Paul's success, Mrs. Morel believes she'll find her own fulfillment.

Mrs. Morel worries constantly over Paul these days. With all his hard work and success, he's still not happy. Paul revolts against her desire for his happiness. He says that man shouldn't worry about joy, but about having a full, expansive life, even if it means anguish and suffering. But Mrs. Morel sees her son physically wasting away because of his own intensity. She blames Miriam for his otherworldliness. Mrs. Morel wants her son to find a strong, intelligent mate who, like herself, is down-to-earth and will have a stabilizing effect on Paul. Even the married Clara Dawes doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Arthur's girlfriend Beatrice becomes pregnant, and the two marry. At first, Arthur finds it hard to settle down. But, finally he does come to accept his new responsibilities and, unlike his father, learns and flourishes from his mother's ethics.

An incident soon occurs that helps Paul find a place for himself in Clara Dawes's life. He's asked to deliver a message to her from a friend. Seeing Clara at the home of her mother, Mrs. Radford, is indeed a shock. Clara is a slave to her lace weaving.

NOTE: The making of lace was one of Nottingham's biggest cottage (home-based) industries. Cottage industry allowed its workers the freedom to work in their own homes. However, the work was grueling and the pay was at the bottom of the wage scale.

Remember that it is Paul's job to make the lace designs that women like Clara must churn out. Thus, he feels a certain social guilt about and responsibility for her drudgery. The proud, beautiful Clara bent over her weaving seems humbled by the inhumanity of industrialism.

NOTE: In this passage, as in earlier mining and factory scenes, you get a taste of Lawrence's sociopolitical views. He believed that industrialism was dehumanizing and destructive to civilization. People under such a system tended to lose their dignity and self-confidence. Walter Morel and Baxter and Clara Dawes are examples of people broken by the industrial system who try to retain some integrity in whatever small way they can.

Clara is embarrassed to be seen by Paul at her tedious labor. Now she doesn't seem anything like the proud, daring woman he cavorted with at Willey Farm. Unlike Clara, however, the boisterous Mrs. Radford clearly enjoys this male visitor. Mrs. Radford, unlike her daughter, has no sympathy for women dominated by men or by the male-run industrial system. She says women have only themselves to blame for being such fools.

Clara's vulnerability gives Paul a chance to help her and to obtain a certain power over her. Before this, he always felt as if Clara were his superior because she was older and more experienced. Now he insists on helping her get back her old foreman's job at Jordan's. The shop girls resent Clara deeply. She is reserved and, like Miriam, never acts like one of the crowd. Clara is, however, a fair overseer and a reliable worker.

Like Miriam, she begins to watch Paul paint. Remember the inspirational effect Miriam always had on Paul's art? Clara, on the other hand, thoroughly distracts him. He's too attracted to her to concentrate on his painting. She's also bitingly critical of his landscapes, but criticism doesn't seem to be very helpful to Paul's artistry. It makes him too insecure. On the other hand, Clara's critical spirit shows she's not afraid of him. Perhaps she could be his intellectual as well as sexual match.

The factory girls at Jordan's really worship Paul. They resent Clara, as much for her special relationship with him as for her haughtiness. The girls plan a wonderful birthday surprise for Paul- a box of his favorite paints. They deliberately exclude Clara from the festivities.

Clara feels truly hurt by the shop girls' action in leaving her out. She feels even worse that she didn't know it was Paul's birthday. Obviously, Clara's aloofness toward Paul is melting. She may often argue with him, but now it's more a result of attraction than animosity. Later, she sends him a volume of verse for his birthday. Paul is deeply moved, particularly because he knows Clara can't really afford the gift.

On one of their afternoon walks, Paul draws out the story of Clara's marriage to Baxter Dawes. You learn from Clara that she was prudish and Baxter insensitive. Finally, feeling he couldn't penetrate her soul, Baxter became brutal and eventually left her for another woman. Clara remarks that she seems to have been asleep all her life. Paul is surprised that Baxter failed to awaken her.

NOTE: The Sleeping Beauty theme recurs in Sons and Lovers and continues in Lawrence's later novels. A woman, unaware of her own sexuality, is awakened to it by a man, usually from a social class below her own. At one time, Mr. Morel awakened Gertrude in just this way.

Paul, even as he tenderly holds Clara's hand, strongly sympathizes with Baxter Dawes. He suggests to Clara that maybe she made Baxter into a brute by constantly rejecting him. Paul tells her Baxter loves her still. As the story progresses, you'll see how Paul identifies Baxter with his own father.

Paul still believes his feelings for Clara are limited to artistic appreciation of her beauty and to a platonic friendship. But the narrator tells you that Paul's heart pounds and races in Clara's presence. Like many young men in the Victorian era he can't admit his sexual feelings.

NOTE: Lawrence believed that young men in his era were oversensitive to women, so afraid of hurting them that they tended to deny their own natural sexuality. He attributes this attitude to the fact of seeing their mothers brutalized, spiritually and physically, by husbands who treated them as objects, rather than as living beings.

The chapter ends with Clara advising Paul on his relationship with Miriam. She suggests that Miriam doesn't really want this communion of souls, but desires instead his flesh and blood. Clara tells Paul he's never tried to approach Miriam. Perhaps now, thanks to Clara's encouragement, Paul will make his move.


Another spring sends Paul running back to Miriam. He finally tells her that their purity is sapping his energy. He can't marry her now because of his family obligations (primarily his mother's disapproval), but he's sure that someday they could wed if only first they crossed the virginal barrier between them. Miriam recoils inside although she decides that if he needs her physically, she will give herself to him. She sees herself as a sacrificial offering, and that's how she approaches the sex act. But Paul doesn't want her this way; he wants her to come willingly to him. Miriam tells him she's not yet ready to do this.

One evening Paul and Miriam get caught in a dark wood during a rainstorm. He loves both the dark and the rain, for they are a kind of death for him- a melting out of individuality into an eternal being. Miriam, on the other hand, is horrified. She hates the dark and fears that the rain-drenched ground will make the fragile Paul sick. Unlike Paul, she doesn't want to drown in night's forgetfulness; she always tries to keep a tight rein on her emotions. Paul begins to see this aspect of Miriam as sterile.

When Miriam's grandmother becomes ill, Miriam goes to care for the testy old lady. When the grandmother takes a brief holiday in Derby, Miriam remains alone in the little cottage. One afternoon Paul bicycles over to the cottage, and he and Miriam make a grand dinner. They playact at being husband and wife with merry abandon.

After a walk, the couple returns to the cottage. When Paul sees Miriam lying naked on the bed, her beauty transfixes him. His desire frightens her. She lies passively, like a sacrificial lamb, rather than like a woman wanting him to make love to her. He senses her old restraint and has to consciously block her out as a person to have sex with her. She can't share in the passion she provokes.

For the next week, Paul comes to Miriam like a starving man to food. After he makes love to her, he always feels a strange sense of failure and a deep desire for death. Remember how in the dark forest Paul had a wondrous, immortal sense of death? But now, in the cottage with Miriam, his desire for death expresses the need to free himself from a hopeless love relationship.

Paul and Miriam's sexual relationship is a fiasco. Much of the blame can be put on Miriam's mother, who taught her to believe that sex was the one horrible thing a woman must endure in marriage. Miriam doesn't want to believe this but, like Paul, she's deeply influenced by her mother. Also, consider the demands Paul makes of a sexual partner. Shouldn't some of the blame for their sexual failure fall on Paul, too?

Out of desperation and guilt, Paul asks Miriam to marry him. She refuses, holding to her belief that one should do what the heart desires, not what society expects. Deep down, she must feel they're not suitable mates. Watch, though, how throughout the rest of the novel she expects Paul to tire of running around and come home to her.

After they've slept together, Paul sees less and less of Miriam. Their unsatisfying lovemaking signals the end of their sexual relationship. However, he again grows close to Clara, who makes him feel happy and carefree. He remains faithful to Miriam, for he believes that somehow he belongs to her and is responsible for her. But because he feels tied down to her, he starts to resent her. He accuses her of being an overbearing conscience, not a life-generating mate.

NOTE: Do you think this is really the truth about Miriam? Is it possible that this is just another of Paul's reactions when he feels Miriam threatens his devotion to his mother and his sexual desires? Don't forget that Lawrence, when writing Sons and Lovers, was still trying to figure out what went wrong in his own relationship with Jessie Chambers. You'll have to decide for yourself whether Miriam wants to "devour" Paul with love or just give herself to him as generously as she can.

Remember the scene where Mrs. Morel, pregnant with Paul, finds her frustration and fury soothed by the luminous white garden lilies? One evening, fed up with Miriam, Paul goes out to the Morel garden and deeply inhales the scent of these lilies. He sees them glistening like madonnas in the dark night. Paul finds that although he likes their intoxicating smell, he can't bring himself to touch them. Then he catches the coarse, almost brutal scent of purple irises, and he feels he can touch these fleshy, accessible blooms. Breaking off a pink, he brings it to his mother and announces he's severing his ties with Miriam.

NOTE: By using the flower metaphor, Lawrence shows you Paul's decision to end his relationship with Miriam (symbolized by the untouchable lilies) and pursue the more passionate, accessible Clara (symbolized by grasping the iris and plucking the pink). Paul's reactions to these flowers let you know his plan before he actually tells his mother he's leaving Miriam.

Miriam fights her final battle for Paul's soul when he announces that they must break up. Has she a right to be angry with him? After all, it's often the case that people involved in a relationship turn out to be bad for one another. She did, however, sleep with Paul, a very daring and vulnerable thing for a turn- of-the-century girl to do. And almost right after their sexual affair, he decides to break off with her!

Bitterly, she tells Paul, "It has been one long battle between us- you fighting away from me." From what you've seen of their relationship and Paul's conflict between Miriam and his mother, this is an accurate summary. Paul, on the other hand, rages over what she's said. He sees it as a total denial that they'd ever loved at all.

Leaving Miriam, Paul heads directly to the nearest tavern, where he flirts with the barmaids and pals around with the men. Miriam seems the farthest thing from his mind, at least for the moment.


Paul starts to make a decent living through his art work. Between his lace designs and other applied arts projects, he can support his family in style. After leaving Miriam, he has finally come to believe in the importance of his work. But she helped him gain this self-confidence.

His relationship with Miriam over, Paul goes straight to Clara. He's forward with her in a way that would have embarrassed him with Miriam. Have you noticed that it's often most difficult to be physically intimate with those you're closest to spiritually? At first, Clara neither responds to nor rejects Paul's advances. He's intoxicated with her; the narrator describes him as a man under chloroform.

On one memorable outing to the river Trent, Paul buys Clara a corsage of bright red carnations. They enter a dark grove and find themselves falling and stumbling by the river bank. Together they struggle through the mud. Clara is definitely Paul's match in strength and daring. Finally, down by the river, they find a private place to lie down. Their passion is as deep, swirling, and tumultuous as the Trent itself. Lawrence doesn't describe their lovemaking here, but he does tell you that Clara's crimson corsage is crushed. Together, they have crushed or broken through the sexual barrier. Paul even begins to speak to Clara in his father's dialect, which, for Paul is the language of sensual love. He'd never speak this language comfortably with the cultured, reserved Miriam.

NOTE: Throughout this scene by the Trent, Lawrence uses the steep hills and deep valleys to call attention to the extraordinary experience of sexual union. Notice that after their passion is consummated, Paul and Clara walk peacefully to a nice level bit of ground, signifying their return to normalcy from the heights of ecstasy. Lawrence's topography follows his characters' emotional and sexual fluctuations.

Although his relationship with Miriam has ended, Paul keeps visiting Willey Farm. He's so much a part of the Leivers family that he can't give them up. Rather nonchalantly, he tells Miriam about his adventures. Of course, the subject of Clara comes up. While he doesn't elaborate, Miriam can't help but guess they've become lovers.

Here you see how heartless and insensitive Paul can be. He doesn't even realize that Miriam might feel hurt or jealous. He's so self-absorbed that he's oblivious to what a respectable woman like Miriam sacrificed by sleeping with him, given the moral code of his time.

Also rather callously, Paul critically comments to Miriam that Clara probably drove Dawes away by being so inaccessible. Isn't this a reminder of why Paul feels he and Miriam broke up? He blithely goes on to imply that he can awaken a passion in Clara that Dawes cannot.

Miriam tries desperately to be understanding. She suggests that the Daweses were mismatched like his own parents. Maybe that is why Baxter could not reach Clara. Paul violently disagrees with the comparison. He's sure his father did arouse passion in his mother, even if only for a short while. As a result, having experienced that "real, real flame of feeling through another person," Mrs. Morel exudes vitality rather than frigidity. Paul's sure that once you've experienced such passion you can grow and ripen, even after the passion itself has dwindled away.

Miriam doesn't have the slightest idea of what Paul's talking about. She is still confident that once he's satisfied his lust, he'll return to her. She believes- and she may be correct- that Paul needs to be owned. What she doesn't quite understand is that his mother owns him far more than Miriam ever can.

Clara has Sunday tea at the Morels. Understandably, she's nervous at meeting the mother of the man she's having an affair with, particularly since she's still married to someone else. Amazingly, Clara and Mrs. Morel get along well. Clara doesn't threaten the mother's possession of Paul's mind and soul. And Mrs. Morel is wise enough to know that Paul needs someone like Clara to satisfy his sexuality.

Suddenly, observing her son objectively as a man, rather than as her flesh and blood, Mrs. Morel sees that it'll be hard for any woman to hold him. She feels sorry for Clara. This observation also foreshadows Paul's abandonment of Clara.

NOTE: Lawrence believed there were vast differences between the sexes. His stories often pit male against female in an intense life-or-death battle. Notice how Mrs. Morel sometimes defends her son's women rather than her own flesh and blood. And later, Paul will defend a fellow male, Baxter Dawes, against Clara-Paul's own lover and Dawes's wife.

The major sign that Mrs. Morel accepts Clara is that she lets her help with the dishes. When Miriam tried to do the same thing, Mrs. Morel shunted her away.

Surprisingly, Miriam drops in on Clara, Paul, and Mrs. Morel. She says it's to see her old friend Clara. We know it's to find out how the relationship between Paul and Clara is progressing. Feeling guilty, Paul tries to be nice to his ex-girlfriend. He is angry when Clara and Mrs. Morel criticize Miriam.

Why do you think Miriam deliberately puts herself in such a painful, humiliating situation? We know she's almost perversely self-sacrificial, even masochistic. Perhaps, too, she doesn't yet believe the intimacy that's grown between Paul and Clara. Maybe she needs to see it for herself. Miriam may also want to gauge how Paul is doing in the test she's set up for him. Will he let the physical consummation he shares with Clara override the spiritual communion he has with Miriam?

Paul can't understand why Clara should be so envious of the abandoned Miriam. It seems to some readers that Paul wants it all-Miriam's spiritual inspiration, Clara's strength and sensuality, and his mother's enduring protection. Can you criticize him for it? Why?

Soon after this Sunday tea incident, Paul and Clara go to the theater to see the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt perform. The show ends so late that Paul must sleep at Clara's. Remember how nice Mrs. Radford was to Paul when he first came to visit? Now she acts hostile to the young couple, as if she senses their relationship has grown intimate. She refuses to go to bed until Paul is safely away in his own room.

Alone in his assigned bedroom, Paul can't sleep, thinking about Clara. Finally, he creeps downstairs and discovers her naked in front of the fireplace. His adoration of her heals her growing shame over their love affair. In the morning, Mrs. Radford treats Paul like a son; evidently he's won his battle with her. She even agrees to a seaside holiday with Paul and Clara.


One day after work Paul runs into Clara's husband at a tavern. Baxter Dawes is down on his luck. His mistress has left him, and he's spending most of his time drinking.

Paul feels drawn to his rival. They're linked through Clara. Perhaps he feels guilty about what their affair has done to Baxter. When Paul, who is Baxter's superior at Jordan's, offers to buy him a drink, Dawes not only refuses, but insults Paul and Clara. Paul hurls a drink in his face and the two men nearly come to blows.

What do you think causes this quarrel? The most obvious reason is their rivalry over Clara. Their antagonism can also be seen as a battle between the middle class (Paul) and the working class (Baxter). We'll learn, as the chapter progresses, that Dawes is very much like Paul's own father. Some readers believe that Paul's fight with Dawes and their later reconciliation is an acting out of Paul's inner conflict regarding his aspiring middle-class mother and his self-satisfied working-class father.

Later, at work, Baxter assaults Mr. Jordan, who is trying to protect Paul from him. Jordan dismisses Dawes and presses assault charges against him. Called as a witness, Paul loses the suit for Mr. Jordan by telling the judge that the basis of his and Baxter's rivalry is Clara. Mr. Jordan and Clara are both furious with Paul. Paul, on the other hand, is happy to protect Dawes from any further hardship or pain.

Clara falls more passionately in love with Paul. Paul, meanwhile, drifts away from her. He tells his mother that women are out to possess him and he can't let them. He even goes so far as to say that he'll never "meet the right woman" while Mrs. Morel lives.

Paul now knows Clara will never be his life's mate. Though he still desires her, he does not want to belong to her. Sensing his anguish, Clara lets him take her in an intense, yet, for him, impersonal sexual encounter, and his intellectual and spiritual struggles momentarily cease.

NOTE: This chapter explores in depth the sexual experiences between Clara and Paul. Lawrence uses their relationship to expound his philosophy on the meaning of sexual union. Lovemaking to Lawrence is a primitive mystery that merges those involved with the never-ending life force. Through the act, they surrender their individuality and become one with nature. In passion, Paul and Clara are described as grains of sand, insignificant in the midst of a vast universe.

After this passionate encounter, Paul and Clara's lovemaking loses some of its fire. Why can't Paul and Clara hold onto their intense passion? One reason is that they have different individual needs. Clara seeks stability and permanence in their relationship. Paul wants sex to be impersonal and free from attachments. He's determined that no woman shall replace his mother as the center of his life. Another possible reason for the deterioration of their passion is that it has served the purpose of making them realize their place in the cosmos. Now they must go their own ways. Which of these reasons would you choose and why?

Paul tells Clara that there will be no affection or lovemaking between them during work or, for that matter, in daylight hours. Night and darkness are his time for sex. Clara can't bear this compartmentalization of love versus work. She didn't love Dawes, but at least, unlike Paul, he always needed her. Paul's passion gave Clara an affirmation of her own specialness, but he can't share her new liberated awareness. As with Miriam, Paul refuses to let Clara into his soul, to give her himself. Paul and Clara's "baptism of fire in passion" has given them a rebirth. But they are catalysts for one another's lives, rather than life mates. Unlike Miriam, sensible Clara realizes she'll never be Paul's wife.

One night Paul walks Clara home and Baxter passes by. Caught up in his thoughts, Paul doesn't at first recognize the man. Poor Dawes looks so broken and humiliated. He acts as if he wants to be invisible, though his defiant pride still shines through. Clara feels guilty when she sees her husband. At the same time, when Paul expresses pity for the man, it angers her. Paul is also obviously jealous of Clara's concern for Dawes. They're both caught up in their own guilt over the affair. They do seem to agree on one thing: they're not truly suited for each other. Then they get angry with each other for the agreement.

First Miriam and now Clara accuse Paul of leaving them out when he makes love. They feel that he sees them as one huge, impersonal female force, not as individuals.

One evening, Dawes accosts Paul in a field outside town. Paul isn't much of a fighter. He doesn't want to battle Dawes, but soon the survival instinct surfaces and he nearly strangles the brawny smith. Realizing that he's choking Dawes, Paul lets up. Baxter seizes the opportunity and knocks him unconscious. When Paul awakes, alone and wounded in the cold field, he feels wonderment, not unlike his reaction after making love to Clara. At this point, all that Paul wants is to get back to the safety and security of his mother.

NOTE: The violence and passion between these two fighting men is described in terms similar to the sexual encounters of Paul and Clara. Lawrence, particularly in his later novels, developed the idea that male aggressiveness toward other males is often caused by a mutual attraction with which they can't cope. Their battle is almost a perversion of the sex act. It's aftermath even leaves Paul in a similar euphoria.

Paul's shoulder has been dislocated, and he gets bronchitis as a result of this incident. He requests that publicly it be said he's had a bicycling accident. He doesn't want Dawes to suffer any retribution. In the next chapter, you will see why.

Clara and Miriam come to visit the convalescent, but now they tire him. He just wants to be nursed by his mother.

Mrs. Morel is ill, a fact that both mother and son refuse to acknowledge. Paul goes on a week's vacation with a friend and drops his mother off to stay with Annie in Sheffield. Paul and Newton have a grand time. With the boys, Paul escapes from all the women he feels closing in on him.

When Paul arrives to pick up his mother, Annie announces that she's gravely ill. Annie implies that it's Paul's fault for not keeping an eye on Mrs. Morel's health. Paul, of course, feels guilty. It seems that every time he leaves his mother to have fun on his own something terrible happens to her.

Mrs. Morel has a huge lump on her stomach that may be cancerous. She tells Paul she's had it for a long time. Why didn't she mention it to the doctor she's been seeing for her heart and stomach ailments? Do you think Mrs. Morel wants to die? Perhaps she knows her death is the only way to release Paul from his dependence on her. Or perhaps the origin of her illness was psychosomatic: an attempt to keep control over her son.

The doctors confer about Mrs. Morel's illness. They still don't know if the tumor is benign or malignant.

Paul is terrified and guilt-ridden over not watching out for Mrs. Morel's health. Clara helps him to forget a little. But as soon as he leaves her, his fear and helplessness in the face of his mother's possible death return.

Finally Mrs. Morel comes home from Annie's. The look of death is upon her. It's clear to everyone in the village as they welcome her. The contrast between the bright, warm August day and her deathly cold pallor heightens the tragedy of her illness.

Inwardly, she's still full of life. Happy to be back in her own home, Gertrude marvels at the lovely sunflowers nodding their yellow heads in her beloved garden.


One day, when Paul was in Sheffield, the doctor mentions that there was a Nottingham fellow named Dawes in the hospital there. The doctor is worried that Dawes, who has typhoid, is fretting himself to death.

Paul decides to visit the solitary, friendless Dawes. There's always been a strong connection between them, though it's been expressed as hate.

Dawes is quite surprised to see Paul. He's non-communicative until Paul mentions his mother's illness. Dawes then realizes that Paul is a fellow sufferer, for Dawes mourns the loss of Clara, just as Paul grieves for his mother.

NOTE: Some readers believe that Paul's reconciliation with Dawes is actually his coming to terms with his own father. Clara, in this situation, plays the mother figure. As you'll soon see, Paul strives to reconcile Clara and Dawes. This, to a follower of Freud, symbolizes the reuniting of parents by the son who had earlier desired to replace the father as his mother's mate. Once Paul begins to identify with the father figure, Dawes, and gives up the lover relationship to the mother figure, Clara, he can go in search of his own true mate.

When Paul tells Clara that Dawes is hospitalized, she's struck with guilt and remorse. She turns on Paul, the man for whom she betrayed her husband and says that Dawes loved her, whereas Paul never did. Clara doesn't feel as though she loves Dawes. However, because she's failed to win Paul's love and because she now feels morally frightened by her affair, she resolves to do penance by returning to her husband.

Mrs. Morel is slowly, agonizingly dying of stomach cancer. Even though she's in great pain and drugged with morphine, she characteristically refuses to complain. In some ways, Mrs. Morel seems happier than ever. Why do you think this is? It's possible she enjoys suffering. It's also possible that the undivided attention she now gets from her son makes her feel fulfilled. A third reason may be that even though she fights death tooth and nail, she's peacefully resigned to it. Mrs. Morel delights over her garden in her last days. Paul notices she again looks like a young, beautiful woman.

Sometimes Mrs. Morel admits to Paul how horrible her life has been with Morel. She refuses to forgive Walter for disappointing her own aspirations.

Paul absorbs her bitterness like a sponge. He feels as if his own life is being torturously ripped to shreds. His mother lingers in agony for months. She hates to leave Paul, who is her promise of success in life. Paul finally tells her to let go of life. It's better than slowly wasting away.

As Paul falls into deep despair over his mother's terminal illness, Clara grows more distant. She fears and is horrified by this cruel and indifferent man who himself is now like death. There are limits to Clara's giving. Unlike Miriam, Clara has a strong instinct for self-preservation.

While Mrs. Morel is dying, Baxter Dawes is recuperating in a pleasant seaside convalescent home. The two men become close friends. One day Paul visits Dawes, and for the first time brings up Clara's name. Paul implies that Clara loves Dawes, is tired of Paul, and is withdrawing from their extramarital affair. Actually, isn't it Paul who's been withdrawing from her? Paul sets up his own abandonment by Clara and carefully arranges for the Dawes's reunion.

It's December, snowy and cold. Mrs. Morel wastes away to nothing but a pair of huge, intense eyes. Paul can't bear to see her like this; neither can his sister Annie. They want her to die. Mr. Morel stays aloof from the whole situation. He cannot deal with this overwhelming, final experience of death. It bewilders and frightens him.

Finally Paul can't stand it anymore. With Annie's approval, he crushes up all the morphine pills and gives his mother a fatal overdose in her milk. Although Paul's euthanasia (mercy killing) of his mother may shock you, the narrator refers to the act as "this little sanity."

NOTE: There are two reasons that this murder can be considered an act of sanity. First, to Lawrence it is compassionate to end the suffering of a terminally ill individual. Secondly, in the psychological framework, it is necessary for Mrs. Morel to die in order to release the son from the imprisonment of his mother's love.

When Mr. Morel comes home that night, Paul tells him his wife is gone. Morel quietly goes about his dinner. How can he possibly eat at a time like this? Maybe he is simply relieved. It's also possible he's in emotional shock. Lawrence, however, makes clear that the death of Walter's wife is just too big an experience for him to fathom. Remember how Morel kept an emotional distance when William died? Also keep in mind his selfish attitude when he came home after Paul's difficult birth.

Later that day, alone in the house, Paul goes up to see his dead mother. She looks like a virginal sleeping beauty to him, not an old dead woman.

NOTE: Paul awakens Clara to life; now he moves full circle and brings his mother to the realm of death. Gertrude now exists for him as a lovely young "sleeping beauty," forever free from life's agony. Lawrence believed that life and death completed and complemented each other in a continual cycle of disintegration and renewal.

Paul suddenly shrinks from the icy lifelessness of his mother's body. She is gone and in peace. But he must go on, though he is emotionally cold and empty without her.

After the funeral, Mr. Morel disgusts his children by wallowing in sentimentality and self-pity. Morel tells Gertrude's relatives how he gave his wife his entire life. He refuses to face all the pain he'd caused her. Despite Walter's conscious attempts to deny his failures as a husband, he can't escape his guilt. He has wretched nightmares about Gertrude.

Paul now finalizes his breakup with Clara and encourages her reunion with Dawes. He visits Baxter, who tries to comfort him over losing his mother. Dawes knows the deep sense of loss an abandoned man can have. Both men reaffirm each other's lives in this poignant scene of male empathy and support.

Clara comes to visit Paul and Baxter. She compares them in a very cool, analytical manner. She now sees Paul as small-minded and unstable. She realizes that it's impossible to build a life with this wind- tossed, unsteady young man who will never admit he's wrong or beaten. She sees Baxter in a new, positive light. He's a man who can admit failure and the need for female help.

Clara is blind to Paul's unbearable grief. He leaves Clara and Baxter with the excuse he must meet his father. He says he expects Clara to meet him later, but knows she won't. Clara and Baxter vow to try to build a new married life.


Clara returns to her husband, and Paul barely ever sees her again. The Morel household breaks up without Gertrude to hold it together. Mr. Morel goes to live with a family in Bestwood. Paul moves to his own apartment in Nottingham.

After his mother's death, Paul has fallen into a deep depression. His whole life is shattered. The world seems so empty, so purposeless without his mother. He feels that he's going blankly through the motions of life but not really experiencing it.

The only thing real to Paul now is darkness. It reflects his desire for death and numbness of feeling. Each time Paul sees something alive and moving- even a scrap of windblown paper- he's agonized, All he wants is to be with Gertrude again.

Paul's will to live forces him to go on, if only for Gertrude's sake. He tries to discover what will bring him back to life. He has two possible answers: art, which he rejects as not living, or marriage and children. This second possibility makes him wonder if there's anyone in the world with whom he could share his life. Paul's a rootless wanderer now, separated by death from the sole person who grounded him in life. He can't escape himself or his solitary pain.

One evening, he meets Miriam at church. He watches her and feels that she at least has some hope in a spiritual if not earthly peace. He greets her, and the two old friends go on to his lodgings, where they have a stiff, uncomfortable meal. Miriam's about to achieve economic independence, as she's to be a teacher at the local agricultural college. Paul proclaims that work can never be everything to a woman, though it is to a man. Does Miriam believe him? Her retort is bitter and ironic, but still she can't quite challenge Paul. Worried over his health, Miriam tells him they should marry. She wants to take care of him. But Paul fears she'll smother him.

Paul talks of going abroad. Instinctively, Miriam feels she should grab him, protect him. But she just can't assert herself in this way- it's too different from her old concept of love as passive self-sacrifice. Out of pity he asks if she'll marry him, but he also tells her that he feels their marriage would not be right.

Miriam decides to go, realizing he doesn't really want her sacrifice. He needs someone to force him to live and love. This the gentle Miriam cannot do. She leaves, still faintly believing someday he'll return to her.

Paul finds himself alone in the dark, still night. He compares himself to the tiny sparkling stars standing out bravely in the vast blackness. Like the stars, or the grains of sand he felt so close to when he vacationed by the seaside with Clara, he feels he is a speck of nothingness in the midst of space. Still, he isn't nothing. He and the stars and the sand do exist and stand out, defiant against the futile darkness. Paul calls for his mother, but now she is diffused in the blackness of nonexistence. Yet, she has taught him well and left him the legacy of survival against all odds.

Paul turns from the darkness and heads "towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly."

NOTE: Many readers find the ending of Sons and Lovers a positive, life-affirming one. They define the word "quickly" here to mean "livingly" (full of life), rather than to mean "walking fast." Paul has swerved sharply away from darkness and death and now heads, full of vitality, toward life. He has always had a love of life; his mother's death tests it ruthlessly. That he chooses life, despite his grief, is a testament to his strong will and spirit.

Other readers find this ending out of character. They say Paul is drifting toward death in this chapter and his quick turnaround toward life is unexpected. You'll have to decide for yourself what you think of this ending. Your decision will depend on what you think of Paul. Is he just a crippled mama's boy or is he a sensitive young man who can stand alone on his own two feet and battle the unknown mysteries of life?



ECC [Sons and Lovers Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

  Web Search Our Message Boards   

All Contents Copyright © 1997-2004
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.

About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 10/18/2019 3:25:12 PM