How does Sons and Lovers show Lawrence's focus on "consciousness" in modernist novels?

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Sons and Lovers displays Lawrence’s preoccupation with consciousness as an important concept in modernist novels because Paul’s world and relationships depend on his subjective thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

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In Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence displays his preoccupation with consciousness through Paul. Paul is the main character of the story; the novel centers on him and his tumultuous thoughts and feelings. By making brooding Paul his protagonist, Lawrence demonstrates how consciousness is an important concept in modernist novels.

For modernists, rational and detached discourse is set aside in favor of deep introspection. Modernists tended to zoom in on a person’s inner life. They spotlighted their interior realm and showed how their subjective awareness could govern their relationship to the world. What propels Paul and leads him to make the choices he does is not objective logic but the inner workings of his mind.

Lawrence describes the impact that Miriam’s physical affection has on Paul as “almost torture.” Paul is not suffering outward torture. It’s not torture that would be plainly visible to the public. The torture is inward. When Paul is with Miriam, Lawrence says his “consciousness seemed to split.” This division leads to an “internecine battle.” As with the near-torture, the battle takes place on an abstract, interior level.

The conflict within Paul determines how he views his art, family, and romantic partners. Besides Miriam, Paul’s inner disquiet impacts his relationship with Clara and his mom, Mrs. Morel. Paul is not the only character whose consciousness greatly influences their outlook. Mrs. Morel, too, is heavily impacted by her interior realm. It shapes how she treats Paul and Miriam.

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Does Sons and Lovers display Lawrence's preoccupation with consciousness as an important concept in modernist literature?

Lawrence is definitely concerned with "consciousness." His technique is very different, however, from other modernists, like James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, who try to get "inside" a character's head or who make the language of the novel a kind of experimental representation of this consciousness. Lawrence is less interested in the means of representation than he is in the facts of what is being represented. This is true in Sons and Lovers, where the narrator is able to discern with great precision both what characters are feeling and why.

Lawrence's concern with consciousness can be found throughout the novel. Take, for instance, the beginning of part 2, when Paul visits the Leiverses. Lawrence lays out for us in a few paragraphs Miriam's character—the narrator calls her a "swine girl," like a character out of a Walter Scott romance, and explains that Miriam resented this role and coveted Paul's learning.

Lawrence's narrator leaves little room for ambiguity: this matter is explained in eleven words: "She hated her position as swine-girl. She wanted to be considered." Later, Paul watches with eyes "quick and bright with life" as she works in the kitchen, her worn dress "like the romantic rags" of a girl in a fairy story. But Miriam resents Paul's "seeing everything," even that her "stocking was not pulled up." In fact, her preoccupation with what Paul was seeing causes her to let the potatoes burn, which causes a minor row at dinner.

The fact that Paul sees Miriam but the Miriam he sees is not the way Miriam actually is is characteristic of how Lawrence handles consciousness. Both Paul and Miriam's points of view are subsumed by the narrator, who is truly omniscient. In a way, the real "consciousness" Lawrence is interested in is a more inclusive kind of emotional law to which all the characters in the novel must bend.

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