Sons and Lovers
The protagonist in Lawrence’s autobiographical novel is Paul Morel, a talented young artist who is caught in the bitter domestic battles between his uncouth coalminer father and his refined, neurotic mother, who has married beneath her class. Unhappy with her marriage, Mrs. Morel lavishes her affection on her sons, first William and then Paul. She wants a better life for her sons and encourages Paul to develop his artistic gifts, turning him against his father. These domestic struggles dramatize the intense class consciousness that Lawrence himself felt.
Paul’s life is dominated first by his overly protective mother and then by two unhappy love affairs, first with the repressed and passive Miriam Leivers, a farmer’s daughter, and later with Clara Dawes, an older woman married to a blacksmith. Neither relationship satisfies Paul, and he feels guilt over his mother’s disapproval. Paul nurses her as she is dying of cancer and gives her an overdose of morphine to end her misery. After her death, Paul makes his peace with his father and reconciles Clara Dawes with her husband before setting out to find his own life.
Lawrence’s novel dramatizes his fears of maternal domination and his determination as an artist to find a new basis for relations between men and women, free from sexual guilt and repression, life-affirming, and unbound by class snobbery. A sickly youth, Paul is further “crippled” by his unhealthy Oedipal attraction to his mother. He lacks the paternal balance of respect and esteem for his father, and he cannot become fully son or lover until he has escaped from his mother’s possessive influence. By the end of the novel, Paul learns to value his father’s frank heartiness and to free himself from his neurotic ties to his mother and to Miriam. At first, Paul feels helpless without his mother’s emotional support, but he gradually realizes that he must find the strength to continue within himself.
Balbert, Peter, and Phillip L. Marcus, eds. D. H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985. Eleven essays on D. H. Lawrence and his novels. Two are effective for research on Sons and Lovers: Mark Spilka’s “For Mark Schorer with Combative Love: The Sons and Lovers Manuscript,” and feminist critic Sandra M. Gilbert’s masterful “Potent Griselda: ‘The Ladybird’ and the Great Mother.”
(The entire section is 595 words.)