Walter Morel, an English collier in many ways typical of the literary image of the lower-class workingman. He is not interested in the arts, in matters of the intellect, or even greatly in his work, which for him is merely a source of income. He is a creature who lives for whatever pleasures he can find in eating, drinking, and his bed. At first a warmly vital man, he later becomes rough and brutal to his family and fights with them verbally and physically. His wife, after the first glow of marriage fades, means little to him because of her puritanical attitudes and regard for culture, and he becomes alienated from his children. His one creative joy is mending odd bits of household equipment and his work clothing. He has been a coal miner since boyhood, and a coal miner he is content to be.
Gertrude Morel, Walter Morel’s wife, who married beneath her class and who soon regrets her action. She is quickly disillusioned by her husband, and the glamour of their courtship soon fades. She discovers that her husband has debts, which he tells her he has paid, and that he constantly lies about the little money he brings home. He always keeps aside some money for his drinking, regardless of how little he earns at the mine. In her disillusionment, Mrs. Morel turns to her children for understanding and affection, as well to protect them from their father’s brutality when drunk. As the sons and daughter appear on the scene, each becomes a focal point for the mother’s love. She tries to help them escape the little mining community, and she succeeds. She places a blight on her second son, Paul, by centering her affections on him and loving him too well, making him the recipient of love that should have been given to her husband. Her affection and attentions cause him to be stunted emotionally. She never realizes what she is doing to the talented young man but always believes that she is working in his best interest by keeping him at home and governing his affections. Her life is cut short by cancer; Paul ends her terrible pain by giving her an overdose of opiates. Even after her death, her influence lingers in his life, so that he shows little evidence of developing into an individual, fulfilled personality.
Paul Morel, the second child of Walter and Gertrude Motel. After his older brother goes off to London to take a job, Paul receives the bulk of his mother’s affection; she helps him find work as a clerk close to home so that he can continue to live with his family. He receives encouragement to study art and becomes a successful part-time painter and designer. Paul’s mother and her influence keep him from growing up. Although he fights against her ruling his life, he is trapped. He readily understands how she forces him to give up his love for Miriam Leivers, whom he courts for many years, but he fails to see that his ability to love any woman as an adult man has been crippled by his emotional attachment to his mother.
William Morel, Paul’s older brother. When he leaves his family to go to London, his mother transfers her obsessive affections to Paul. William falls in love with a shallow, pseudo-sophisticated woman who takes his money readily, even for her personal clothing, and treats his family as her servants. Although he sees through the girl, William feels trapped into marrying her. A tragic marriage for him is averted only through his sudden and untimely death.
Miriam Leivers, a young farm girl with a highly spiritual yet possessive nature. She and Paul Morel are companions until their late teens, at which time Miriam falls in love with the young man. She spends a great deal of time with him, for he undertakes to educate her in French, algebra, and other subjects, but his mother objects strenuously to her, especially when Paul seems to return her love. Of a highly romantic nature, Miriam is at first repelled by the physical aspects of love but is slowly persuaded...
(The entire section is 2,710 words.)