What symbolism is used in Sons and Lovers?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are numerous symbols in Sons and Lovers. One of them is the swing at Willey Farm. It provides a kind of commentary on the status of Paul and Miriam's relationship. Just like the swing, it has its ups and downs, moving back and forth, yet never moving forward. There is intense love and hate in this passionate relationship, but neither lasts for very long, just like the highs and lows of a turn on the swing. It's also notable that Miriam cannot achieve the same heights on the swing as Paul. This would appear to be a reference to the difference in intensity between their respective sex drives.

The ash tree is used by Lawrence to symbolize the darker aspects of life. This is a world in which individual lives are susceptible to the elemental forces of nature. The ash tree is a constant reminder that, whatever we might think, as humans, we too are part of the natural world with all its indifference to death and suffering. And like the ash tree, the various characters in the book must somehow withstand the harshness of their environment if they're to survive.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the most notable uses of symbolism in this excellent novel is the ubiquitous use of the flower that is used to foreshadow events that will occur very soon after the appearance of the flower. For example, a black flower is described before the death of William, clearly symbolising the death and grief that is about to enter into the Morel family. In the same way, red and white flowers are described usually before romantic moments of physical union:

In bosses of ivory and in large splashed stars the roses gleamed on the darkness of foliage and stems and grass. Paul and Miriam stood close together, silent, and watched. Point after point the steady roses shone out to them, seeming to kindle something in their souls. The dusk came like smoke around, and still did not put out the roses.

The description of the flowers and their intense whiteness are directly linked to the emotions rising up within Paul and Miriam, and this scene anticipates their physical union and their sexual awakening, which, like the white flowers that refuse to be extinguished by the encroaching darkness, will awake emotions within Paul and Miriam that will surprise them both by their strength against all opposition. Flowers therefore are one of the major symbols that are used within this novel to suggest both death and tragedy in the case of black flowers and love and romance in the case of red and white flowers.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial