Who is the Oedipus character in the novel Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence is a novel strongly influenced by the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. The notion of "Oedipal" relationships in Lawrence relates only tangentially to the actual character of Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.

Oedipus himself was sent away from his home as an infant. When he kills Laius accidentally at the crossroads, he is not aware that Laius was his father. When he marries and has children by Jocasta, he does not know that Jocasta is his mother. Moreover, the marriage itself is not born from sexual longing, but rather is dynastic, a way of incorporating the hero who rids Thebes of the Sphinx into the ruling family of the city. 

Freud, however, takes the basic plot elements of the Sophoclean drama to give a name to his notion of the Oedipus Complex, in which the male subconscious mind desires the mother sexually and thus sees the father as a rival and desires to kill him.

In Lawrence's novel, Paul Morel, the protagonist, exemplifies the Oedipus Complex by being so emotionally invested in his mother that he is unable to develop satisfactory sexual relationships with other women. He also resents and hates his overbearing father. After his mother's death, he is psychologically adrift, unable to resolve his primary Oedipal desires. 

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, there are arguably two Oedipus characters. In Greek myth, Oedipus's parents, Laius and Jocasta, receive a prophecy when Oedipus is born that states their son will kill his father and marry his mother. Though they send him away, he returns and carries out the prophecy (though he does not realize at the time that the man he is killing is his father and the woman he marries is his mother). In Lawrence's novel, the mother figure, Gertrude, quickly falls out of love with her lower-class, drunken, abusive husband and first turns her attentions to her older son, William. He is arguably the first Oedipal figure. He is engaged to a woman but is still very connected to his mother. After William dies, Gertrude shifts her maternal attention to her younger son, Paul, who becomes the Oedipal figure. He loves Miriam, a local girl, but he can never fully become attached to her because of his continued obsession in his mother. He later develops an interest in Clara, a married woman, but he does not become fully attached to her either. When his mother dies, Paul feels despondent and alone because he cannot live without her.