Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story occupies itself with D. H. Lawrence’s major theme, the difference between what he called “mental consciousness” and “blood consciousness.” The characters are first introduced with this theme in mind. The brothers, “callous” but cowed by failure, are revealed as lacking that crucial tension: Joe is in a “stupor of downfall,” “a subject animal now”; Fred Henry is “not master of the situations of life” despite his mastery of horses; Malcolm is “the baby of the family,” “looking aimlessly.” All have a “sullen, animal pride,” and after years of living a brutal and coarse life, fathering illegitimate children with women of “bad reputations,” they lack Mabel’s “blood consciousness,” her ability to see the situation and respond deeply to it. Fergusson, whose “slight Scotch accent” foreshadows the severe repression he later reveals, represents “mental consciousness,” which has all the power of logic and science, but which cannot by itself do more than deny the instinctive forces of life. Their confrontation combines the wisdom of instinct and the wisdom of logic but does not suggest that the forces will coexist quietly.

Another important theme is the repressive role of society. It shows itself in Mabel’s life after poverty strikes down her pride and forces her to buy cheap food and avert her gaze on the town streets. For Fergusson, on the other hand, success increases the social repression he feels; his sense of class, of professional status, makes him claim to hate the town and feel ashamed of his attraction to its people. Even after his confession of love to Mabel, the shame haunts him: “That he should love her? That this was love. . . . Him, a doctor! How they would all jeer if they knew!” Though Lawrence keeps society in the distance, its power is clearly in evidence, and the actions of his characters show his eagerness to strike against the still dominant Victorian sense of propriety he believed to be very destructive.