Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Sons and Lovers, Lawrence’s third book, is an apprenticeship novel that, in many respects, defies the conventions of its genre. Among early twentieth century English apprenticeship novels that preceded Lawrence’s work, the main character usually undergoes an “education” or “apprenticeship” toward a meaningful life experience. As part of his (or, rarely, her) apprenticeship, the protagonist begins with innocent, often mistaken notions about the nature of reality; only after some painful experiences does he grow to mastery in the game of life. Specifically, he learns valuable lessons about himself, especially his limitations and illusions, but by the completion of his youth he often can answer three questions: What is the nature of love? What vocation is appropriate for me? What is the meaning of life?
In contrast with the main characters in earlier apprenticeship novels or in subsequent ones, Paul Morel, Lawrence’s protagonist, fails to find answers to any of these questions. By the end of his life apprenticeship, he has learned only that he is incapable of intense sexual feelings to sustain a relationship with a young woman, that he lacks a true vocation for his considerable talents, and that he cannot fathom the “meaning of life,” except narrowly in terms of his own sensibility.
Grappling with a modern version of the classic Oedipal problem, Paul loathes his father, the hard-drinking but convivial miner, Walter, and...
(The entire section is 720 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Walter Morel, a coal miner, was a handsome, dashing young man when Gertrude married him. After a few years of marriage, however, he proves to be an irresponsible breadwinner and a drunkard, and his wife hates him for what he once meant to her and for what he is now. Her only solace lies in her children—William, Annie, Paul, and Arthur—for she leans heavily upon them for companionship and lives in their happiness. She is a good parent, and her children love her. The oldest son, William, is successful in his work, but he longs to go to London, where he has promise of a better job. After he leaves, Mrs. Morel turns to Paul for the companionship and love she found in William.
Paul, who likes to paint, is more sensitive than his brothers and sister and is closer to Mrs. Morel than any of the others. William brings a young woman named Lily home to visit, but it is apparent that she is not the right kind of woman for him; she is too shallow and self-centered. Before long, William becomes aware of that fact, but he resigns himself to keeping the promise he made to his fiancé.
When William becomes ill, Mrs. Morel goes to London to nurse her son and is with him there when he dies. Home once more after burying her first son, Mrs. Morel cannot bring herself out of her sorrow. Not until Paul becomes sick does she realize that her duty lies with the living rather than with the dead. After this realization, she centers all of her attention upon Paul....
(The entire section is 1163 words.)
Chapter 1: The Early Married Life of the Morels
The first chapter of Sons and Lovers introduces the Morel family and describes the story’s setting, a neighborhood called “The Bottoms,” where the miners live. Mrs. Morel is pregnant with her third child, which she does not want because she has fallen out of love with her husband and because the family is poor. When her husband comes home from working at a bar, the two argue over his drinking.
This chapter also contains a flashback to the time when Mrs. Morel met Walter at a Christmas party. She was twenty-three, reserved, and thoughtful; he was twenty-seven, good-looking, and outgoing, and very different from Mrs. Morel’s father. They are married by the following Christmas. Less than a year into their marriage, however, Mrs. Morel discovers that Walter is not the man she thought he was. He does not own his house as he said he did, and he is in considerable debt.
Two key events occur in this chapter. The first is when Walter cuts his son’s hair while his wife is sleeping. Mrs. Morel views this as a betrayal, and the image of William, her favorite child, standing in front of his father with shorn locks on the floor, stays with her. The second event occurs when Walter comes home drunk late one night and fights with his wife. Walter locks his pregnant wife out of the house, letting her in later, after he has slept off part of his alcohol.
Chapter 2: The...
(The entire section is 1484 words.)