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I think that Sons and Lovers centers on the idea human relationships. Initially, Lawrence depicts a social setting in which human relationships are seen as secondary to social advancement. Through his characterizations, Lawrence displays a healthy disdain for such a condition. For example, the human relationship between Gertrude and Walter is limited because of her predisposition to see him as "lower" than her in a social setting. The depiction of social aspirations supplanting true emotional connection is one way in which the novel is about human relationships. Lawrence is suggesting that the nuanced and subtle nature of human relationships cannot be preserved if conformist and external notions of the good drive the individual. For example, William climbs the social ladder and achieves a certain level of social acceptance, but is estranged from his family in the process. Lily is superficial and phony, and William comes to detest this condition about her because it precludes any real semblance of a relationship. For Lawrence, the focus of human relationships can only be preserved if individuals shed social preconceptions. Lawrence feels that the desire for social advancement prevents any real human relationships from forming.
It is in such a light that the premise of the novel explores human relationships. The relationship between husband and wife, and then sons and mother serve as the focus of the novel. Lawrence is able to establish that part of human definition exists in how these emotional valences are navigated. In a letter, he describes this as the essence of the novel:
But as her sons grow up she selects them as lovers — first the eldest, then the second. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother — urged on and on. But when they come to manhood, they can't love, because their mother is the strongest power in their lives, and holds them.
The hold that love has over individuals and the desire to forge meaningful emotional bonds occupies the characters in the novel. It becomes evident that the novel centers on human relationships. The ending in which Paul is alone represents a world in which these human relationships are absent, something that Lawrence described as "the drift towards death." This gravitational pull can be avoided through human relationships and being able to understand their intricate nature. Lawrence sees the world in which individuals are "prisoners" to external forces as one where relationships are absent. It is in this light where the novel placed a great emphasis on the human relationships that define what it means to be human.
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