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Sons and lovers

Sons and Lovers Themes

Oedipus complex
Perhaps Sigmund Freud's most celebrated theory of sexuality, the Oedipus complex takes its
name from the title character of the Greek play Oedipus Rex. In the story, Oedipus is prophesied
to murder his father and have sex with his mother (and he does, though unwittingly). Freud
argued that these repressed desires are present in most young boys. (The female version is called
the Electra complex.)

D.H. Lawrence was aware of Freud's theory, and Sons and Lovers famously uses the Oedipus
complex as its base for exploring Paul's relationship with his mother. Paul is hopelessly devoted
to his mother, and that love often borders on romantic desire. Lawrence writes many scenes
between the two that go beyond the bounds of conventional mother-son love. Completing the
Oedipal equation, Paul murderously hates his father and often fantasizes about his death.

Paul assuages his guilty, incestuous feelings by transferring them elsewhere, and the greatest
receivers are Miriam and Clara (note that transference is another Freudian term). However, Paul
cannot love either woman nearly as much as he does his mother, though he does not always
realize that this is an impediment to his romantic life. The older, independent Clara, especially, is
a failed maternal substitute for Paul. In this setup, Baxter Dawes can be seen as an imposing
father figure; his savage beating of Paul, then, can be viewed as Paul's unconsciously desired
punishment for his guilt. Paul's eagerness to befriend Dawes once he is ill (which makes him
something like the murdered father) further reveals his guilt over the situation.

But Lawrence adds a twist to the Oedipus complex: Mrs. Morel is saddled with it as well. She
desires both William and Paul in near-romantic ways, and she despises all their girlfriends. She,
too, engages in transference, projecting her dissatisfaction with her marriage onto her smothering
love for her sons. At the end of the novel, Paul takes a major step in releasing himself from his
Oedipus complex. He intentionally overdoses his dying mother with morphia, an act that reduces
her suffering but also subverts his Oedipal fate, since he does not kill his father, but his mother.

Lawrence discusses bondage, or servitude, in two major ways: social and romantic. Socially,
Mrs. Morel feels bound by her status as a woman and by industrialism. She complains of feeling
"'buried alive,'" a logical lament for someone married to a miner, and even the children feel they
are in a "tight place of anxiety." Though she joins a women's group, she must remain a
housewife for life, and thus is jealous of Miriam, who is able to utilize her intellect in more
opportunities. Ironically, Paul feels free in his job at the factory, enjoying the work and the
company of the working-class women, though one gets the sense that he would still rather be

Romantic bondage is given far more emphasis in the novel. Paul (and William, to a somewhat
lesser extent) feels bound to his mother, and cannot imagine ever abandoning her or even
marrying anyone else. He is preoccupied with the notion of lovers "belonging" to each other, and
his true desire, revealed at the end, is for a woman to claim him forcefully as her own. He feels
the sacrificial Miriam fails in this regard and that Clara always belonged to Baxter Dawes. It is
clear that no woman could ever match the intensity and steadfastness of his mother's claim.

Complementing the theme of bondage is the novel's treatment of jealousy. Mrs. Morel is
constantly jealous of her sons' lovers, and she masks this jealousy very thinly. Morel, too, is
jealous over his wife's closer relationships with his sons and over their successes. Paul frequently
rouses jealousy in Miriam with his flirtations with Agatha Leiver and Beatrice, and Dawes is
violently jealous of Paul's romance with Clara.

Contradictions and oppositions

Lawrence demonstrates how contradictions emerge so easily in human nature, especially with
love and hate. Paul vacillates between hatred and love for all the women in his life, including his
mother at times. Often he loves and hates at the same time, especially with Miriam. Mrs. Morel,
too, has some reserve of love for her husband even when she hates him, although this love
dissipates over time.

Lawrence also uses the opposition of the body and mind to expose the contradictory nature of
desire; frequently, characters pair up with someone who is quite unlike them. Mrs. Morel
initially likes the hearty, vigorous Morel because he is so far removed from her dainty, refined,
intellectual nature. Paul's attraction to Miriam, his spiritual soul mate, is less intense than his
desire for the sensual, physical Clara.

The decay of the body also influences the spiritual relationships. When Mrs. Morel dies, Morel
grows more sensitive, though he still refuses to look at her body. Dawes's illness, too, removes
his threat to Paul, who befriends his ailing rival.

Nature and flowers

Sons and Lovers has a great deal of description of the natural environment. Often, the weather
and environment reflect the characters' emotions through the literary technique of pathetic
fallacy. The description is frequently eroticized, both to indicate sexual energy and to slip pass
the censors in Lawrence's repressive time.

Lawrence's characters also experience moments of transcendence while alone in nature, much as
the Romantics did. More frequently, characters bond deeply while in nature. Lawrence uses
flowers throughout the novel to symbolize these deep connections. However, flowers are
sometimes agents of division, as when Paul is repulsed by Miriam's fawning behavior towards
the daffodil.

Passion and Love

Each of the characters in Sons and Lovers feels overcome with passion at some point in the
novel. Mrs. Morel passionately loves her sons, William and Paul. Her love for them guides every
other action in her life. Both boys, however, struggle to find their own passions under the
suffocating shadow of their mother's love for them. No woman ever measures up to their mother,
and no job is worthy enough to take them away from home. Creative and social pursuits are only
worth their time if their mother approves. Because Paul's definition of passion has been so
skewed by his oedipal relationship with his mother, he doesn't understand how to love another
person. He lusts after Clara, which could be described as physical love, yet feels emotionally
connected to Miriam, which could be described as spiritual love, although neither relationship
fulfills him.

Passion sometimes manifests itself negatively, as in Mr. and Mrs. Morel's relationship. The
couple swings between hatred and affection in their complicated, abusive relationship. Mr. Morel
physically lashes out at his wife, as when he hurls a drawer at her during a fight, but feels
remorse when he actually hurts her. Although Mrs. Morel hates her husband, she feels worried
when he disappears and even romantic toward him when he brings her tea the morning after their
fight. She dutifully cares for him during his injury, just as Clara cares for Dawes—the violence
of illness reigniting a romantic passion that forgives past sins. Emotionally, Paul mirrors this
inconstant passion by feeling overwhelming love one moment for the women in his life, like
Miriam and his mother, but hatred the next.

Characters also exhibit passion for things other than romance. Mrs. Morel is passionate about her
religious beliefs. Paul finds a passion for painting, although he arguably uses the art form to
process the repressed romantic passion he feels for his mother. Miriam displays passionate
spirituality: "She was cut off from ordinary life by her religious intensity," which makes a
physically passionate relationship with Paul impossible. Miriam does feel deeply for Paul, just
not sexually. She longs for him to belong to her, just as Mrs. Morel does, in contrast to Clara,
who wants physical passion with Paul, not a relationship.

Symbolism and Imagery:

Use of Symbols in Sons and Lovers

In the novel innumerable symbolisms have been used. Symbols such as light symbolizes rational, daily,
routine life and 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 descends down everyday into the mines. To Lawrence, light and dark like life and
death, opened naturally into each other and were essential to one another. Darkness has a special
symbolic potency. It adds tragic dignity to various scenes and symbolizes the darkness of death. When
Williams' body is brought back home, the Morels solemnly guide the long, heavy casket out of the dark
night and into the candle lit parlor. At the end of the novel Paul walks away from the dark, uninhabited
country fields - towards the bright city lights. This may be interpreted as Paul's walking away from
death, towards life.
Blood is another important symbol having great significance. Anger, passion, and sexual desire are
illustrated in different characters. There are several instances where the word blood and its variants
have been used. Some of them are: blood shot eyes; full of blood; sensuous flame of life; Morel's blood
was up; even the blood; a wave of hot blood went over to the infant; blood battling; roused his blood;
her heart melted like a drop of fire; etc. The following example illustrates this:-
"The whole of his blood seemed to burst in to flames and he could scarcely breathe... his blood was
concentrated like a flame in his chest. There were flashed in his blood".
These lines refer to the passion felt for Miriam by Paul as they walked side by side. He wants to make
love to Miriam but she shrinks away from it and from Paul. Blood also makes its presence felt when Mr.
Morel throws an object with violence at Gertrude and some blood shedding takes place. This again is
symbolic. Mrs. Morel is hurt on her brow and the blood
flows and drops on the baby's white shawl. Later a drop also dropped on the baby's golden hair. The
imagery is vivid, and it is also very symbolic.

Nature is yet another powerful symbol in the novel. Flowers have a role in revealing the psychological
traits of the characters, and even the skies very symbolically change color according to the characters'
moods. Thus it turns red when Mrs. Morel is upset and angry and it turns black when there is a
foreshadowing of death and sorrow. It appears to be a sparkling and shining blue when Paul is out in the
countryside with the women he loves. Mrs. Morel's experience with the lilies when she puts her head
deep inside the flower and when her face is smeared with pollen golden in color has been described in
very explicit and figurative language. Mrs. Morel is influenced by the overpowering perfume, the
streaming white light of the full moon and the whiteness of all the flowers.

Animal and natural imagery forming parallels to human

dilemmas inSons and Lovers
Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence, is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the depths
of human emotions and human psychology. In the words of Richard Aldington, “When you have
experienced Sons and Lovers you have lived through the agonies of the young Lawrence striving
to win free from his old life. Generally, it is not only considered as an evocative portrayal of
working-class life in a mining community, but also an intense study of family, class and early
sexual relationships”. These major themes of the novel are unleashed with the aid of animal and
natural imageries: they cater to the development of all human emotions and sentiments, which
expressed otherwise, would be as bland as egg without yolk.
At the very beginning of the novel, Mrs. Morel is seen living in a very “suffocating” atmosphere,
where she feels that she is “buried alive”. The weather is “hot”, thus alluding to the irritant mood
of Mrs. Morel/Gertrude. Lawrence includes various descriptions of the “garden” surrounded by
the “scent of the flowers”, with which Mrs. Morel “sooths herself”. Nature, as described by the
Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, serves as a “nourishing” element for Gertrude. She
receives “tranquillity” and “pleasure” from it; two attributes which were almost forbidden to her
since soon after her marriage with Walter Morel. She married an “erect”, “ruddy” “cheek[ed]”
man with a “non-intellectual”, “gambolling” kind of “humour”, whereas, she herself belonged to
a “burgher” “proud” family. Thus her dilemma was that she never got settled in the “unruly” life
with Walter, and the only reason she coped up with him was for the sake of her children,
referring even more to her nauseated condition. Nature thus, becomes the guardian and the
protective balm for her. However, at the same time, Lawrence pricks the idealised illusion of
nature: “the sky overhead throbbed and pulsed with light”. He establishes the fact that the
weather can be as foreboding and sinister as possible. He shows that Nature, though alive and
pulsating, has a threatening and a deadening note to it too. This dilemma is overwhelming and
devastating for the characters. She is trapped beneath the “ruddy glare” and between the
“smoked” “hedges” at the latter half of the evening. The reader can see a similarity in Gertrude’s
life: she is suffering under the entrapment of Walter Morel and cannot free herself from it.

Lawrence shows a platonic love between Paul and Miriam, which after a significant period of
roughly eight years, transformed in a physical acceptance of each other. The writer employed
naturalistic imagery yet again to highlight the passion and the fervour that the two lovers had in
them for each other. Paul had begun to “court her like a lover” now. He was a “man” and not a
“youth” any longer. On a visit to the farm, they are astonished to see the “red” “glow” of the sky.
In this scene, Lawrence instils numerous shades of red colour in the leaves, the sky and the
clouds, which reflects the immense love Paul had for Miriam and vice-versa. The “scarlet” and
“crimson” drops were the cherries that hung from the trees on the farm. Cherries in Japanese
tradition symbolise “fertility”, “merrymaking” and “festivity”. However, the cherry blossom trees
in Japan are known for their “brilliant but short blooming” season. This serves as an analogy for
the relationship of Paul and Miriam. It matured and lived, but for an insignificantly, small period
of their lives: the quandary lies with the question whether the cherries imply the heated passion
or pose as a danger to their relationship. The whole “crimson” and “vermillion” sky comes out to
provide them an atmosphere romantic and idealistic enough for them to carry out their desires.
Nature adds a “golden” touch to it too, making it more rich and grand an event, sending
“thrilling motions” in Paul’s veins. It makes him more conscious of his self and his needs.
Mother-nature however, asserts herself in the most unconventional ways too: she swiftly turns
her back on the naive and romantic notions, bringing out the true “darkness of the leaves” and
the “moaning of the wind”. This gloomy aspect can be related to the approaching break-up of
Paul and Miriam. Lawrence, with the aid of foreshadowing and natural imagery, makes it clear to
the reader that Paul and Miriam started off loving each other fervently, once they were past their
platonic era of love, but the sudden emergence of the grey skies, after the short-lived, but equally
dramatic golden-red sunset, takes its place as the dominating theme.

Another Japanese traditional tale is that “a fallen cherry blossom symbolizes a fallen samurai
who sacrificed his life for the emperor”. Here, when Paul plucks the cherries from their branches
actually materialises the Japanese tradition: Miriam becomes the “sacrificed” “samurai” while
Paul is the decisive “emperor”. Their relationship, in the light of this act, could not last longer; it
was bound to “nullify” soon enough.

Moving on to the dilemmas highlighted by animal imagery, the reader can link Sigmund Freud’s
case-study theory of “Little Hans” to Paul. Hans perceived their family horse as a representation
of his father, and hence had developed a phobia against horses. This was fundamental for his
oedipal complex to become prominent as displacement is one of the key factors of Freud’s
theory. Paul experienced the “agonies of shrinking self-consciousness”. He did not have a
“strong” built and was too meek to come up with any substantial occupation for himself. The
mere thought to “look for advertisements” killed “all joy”, even “life” for him. Thus, he forced
himself to “identify with the aggressor”, as Freud termed it. The “great brown beasts” were
“plunging”, “prancing” and “toiling”, and this left Paul awestruck and enthralled. The “leader
horse” was the most magnificent of all and Paul secretly wished to be as commanding and as
powerful as it. A similar experience is more vivid to Paul when he comes across a “stallion”
“with an endless excess of vigour”. He became more conscious of his physicality, and his
manliness, thus finally recognising it. It is this acceptance of his masculinity that drives him
away from Miriam and closer to Clara, with whom he is liberated to enjoy any sensual pleasures.
Lawrence craftily makes this incident with a horse, a medium due to which Paul overcomes his
nagging-conscience, and dwells in the worldly pleasure which he had declared forbidden for
himself, earlier. For Lawrence, horses are a “dominant symbol” of “lordship” and “vitality”, thus
encouraging Paul in his sexual initiation.

Moreover, incest is purely animalistic. Animals don’t have laws and rules forbidding them from
mating with their family, hence it is quite usual that they reproduce with their siblings/parents.
All modern day cheetahs may be descended from a single surviving family unit hence their
genetic uniformity. The animals will be “breed true” and “pure”, doubling up good genes and
eliminating unwanted traits. However, with humans, it is as harmful and as incestuous as
possible. Paul dwells in an incestuous relationship with his mother, Mrs. Morel: they at least
commit emotional incest, if not blatant physical one. Lawrence, more likely, enforces this notion:
“the two shared lives” and he loved “sleeping with his mother” which was nothing less than how
he would feel is he was sleeping with his “beloved”.

Moreover, “dog” imagery is very prominent in this novel. Miriam dehumanised as a

“bloodhound” by Clara. This specie of dogs is known for its tracking-quality. Miriam followed
Paul till the very end of the novel, making advances towards him in the most subtle fashions of
all, but remained in vain. It also reflects her loyal nature and her faithful feelings for Paul.
Moreover, Mr. Morel and Mrs. Morel had a cat and dog relationship. Walter “snarled” just like a
mad-dog who is about to unleash its most ruthless nature. Morel, being the ruddy miner he was,
cropped William’s hair “like a sheep”. Here, the dairy animal represents the sacrificial nature,
rather the sacrificial life of William. He was torn between his beloved and the aspirations and
desires Mrs. Morel had for him. The mother’s influence stuck with him like his shadow and even
when he left for London, he was not able to adjust with Lily. A “pigeon” is yet again a bird-
imagery employed by Lawrence to symbolise the to-and-fro running of Paul: from Miriam to
Clara to Miriam to Clara and finally resting with Mrs. Morel. It shows the inconsistency in his
life, which was his first and foremost dilemma. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Paul procrastinated
at times, and such over thinking led him to end up all alone.
The novel ends on a tragic note as Mrs. Morel dies. The nature comes in union to express its
grief as well: the “night” went in “extinction”, the “stars and sun” were “spinning round for
terror”, leaving Paul “tiny and daunted”. This reflects his “nothingness”, his “purposelessness”
in life, which had always been around him, at every corner of his life. So, as a final note, Paul
takes the direction of the “darkness”, towards the “faintly humming town”. His emotions are
roused with anguish and futility. Thus, Lawrence with the aid of animal and natural imagery
brought out the true feelings and predicament of his characters

Paul Morel
The protagonist of the second half of the novel, Paul Morel struggles to discover his passion
under the shadow of his mother's suffocating love. For most of his young adult years Paul loves
his mother more than anyone else. They act like lovers, embrace and care for each other, take
brief trips together, and, when Paul is seriously ill, sleep in the same bed, which helps him
recover. Despite being a talented painter and easily finding factory work, Paul's greatest ambition
is to grow old in a little cottage with his mother. When Paul matures and experiences a sexual
awakening, he tries to find a lover who fulfills him in the same way his relationship with his
mother once did. He experiments with Miriam Leivers and Clara Dawes, but ultimately ends up
alone. Once he realizes that his relationship with his mother has been holding him back, Paul
cannot wait for his ailing mother to finally die. Along with his sister Annie, Paul gives his
mother an overdose of morphine that ends her life. Free from her suffocating love, Paul feels
aimless and even considers suicide.

Gertrude Morel
Gertrude Morel deals with disappointment and loss her entire life. As a young woman she longs
to pursue her education but is held back by gender expectations and an overbearing father. She
runs away with Walter Morel after meeting him at a dance, but their initially happy marriage
crumbles under his alcoholism and abuse. Without a husband to share her life with Mrs. Morel
transfers all her affection to her sons, first William and then Paul. She jealously guards her sons'
affections to ensure they always love her best. When William dies, Mrs. Morel falls into a deep
depression and only rouses when Paul also falls dangerously ill. She spends the rest of her life as
Paul's companion, judging and critiquing any woman who threatens to usurp her place.

Miriam Leivers
Miriam Leivers is Paul's best friend growing up. They share the same love of art and literature,
although Miriam hasn't had much formal education. Miriam loves Paul but feels timid about
sexuality, especially before marriage. She views sex as suffering, or a sacrifice that must be
made for the greater good of marriage. In all things thoughtful and pensive, Miriam struggles to
simply let herself go and embrace passion boldly. This can be seen in her timid response to
feeding the hens or riding the swing and in her romantic relationship with Paul. As a devoutly
religious girl, Miriam longs for a spiritual connection with Paul, while he longs instead mostly
for a physical one.

Clara Dawes
Clara Dawes is a sexually liberated, childless suffragette. On the surface she appears to be a
"modern" woman, especially when compared to Miriam's timid traditionalism. Clara leaves her
husband and takes Paul, a younger man, as her lover. Although the reader is told of Clara's
intelligence, it isn't really emphasized. Clara spends the majority of her relationship with Paul
feeling merely possessive of him. When her estranged husband, Baxter, falls ill, Clara returns to
him and her traditional gender role, which suggests perhaps she isn't as modern as first portrayed.

William Morel
William Morel is the oldest of Mrs. Morel's children and the initial focus of her obsessive love.
Mrs. Morel dotes on William as a child, much to her husband's jealousy. In retaliation Mr. Morel
cuts off William's beautiful, curly hair, an act that is the final nail in the coffin of their dead
marriage. Unlike Paul who returns his mother's affection equally, William leaves home for
London. He becomes engaged to a middle-class woman, although he realizes they probably
aren't the best match after bringing her home to meet his family. He burns his love letters to
show his mother that he loves her best but continues to attend dances and date women, knowing
it makes her jealous. It seems William is on the path to discovering passion outside his
relationship with his mother, but he tragically dies young.