Sons and Lovers Themes
Lawrence is always concerned with the relation between men and women, specifically with the struggle between the male and female principles. The duality inherent in life is thus one of his main themes. In Sons and Lovers this struggle concerns Paul Morel's allegiance to his mother, who couldn't bear to think that any of her sons would be condemned to manual labor, over the semiliterate robustness of his father, who "hated books, hated the sight of anyone reading or writing."
As in many of his works, Lawrence also dramatizes his hatred of industrialism. Here he does so by depicting Walter Morel, Paul's father, as a man brutalized by the life of the mines. The father's vitality has been subverted by mechanization, and the mother's love of her children warped into neurotic possessiveness by modern civilization. She attempts to realize her life through the achievements of her sons. Paul's need for sensual and erotic knowledge conflicts with such maternal idealism, although he, too, has a desire to possess his lovers. Lawrence constantly emphasizes the idea that a balance must be found between male and female principles if happiness is to be achieved. In later writings he supports this idea by calling upon the ancient vitality of pre-Christian ritual, by asserting the male principle or by announcing a truce between sexuality and the intellect. Here he is content to call for a recognition of the life of the blood by dramatizing several eternal conflicts: the conscious versus the subconscious life, instinctive desires versus idealistic yearnings, and a mechanized bourgeois society (with its repression and conditioned behavior) versus the impulse toward freedom and individual regeneration.
Lawrence addresses the issue of free will in his novel, asking to what extent his characters’ environment influences their characters’ choices. Lawrence makes this explicit in his descriptions. For example, when Paul begins to look in the newspapers for work, the narrator writes, “Already he was a prisoner of industrialism . . . He was being taken into bondage. His freedom in the beloved home valley was going now.” The modern industrial world, specifically as it manifests itself in the effect mining culture has on the Morel family, shapes the characters’ desires. Mrs. Morel, who believes she is morally better than the miners, is disgusted by what mining has made of her husband, and she pushes her children away from that work. She finds jobs for both Paul and William so that they will lead better lives than their father. The sons have difficulty making choices of their own. They are so driven to please their mother that they sacrifice their own pleasure and needs to satisfy hers. Neither can develop emotionally healthy relationships with women, and both struggle to balance their own wants with those of their mother. Another character who suppresses her will for the needs of another is Miriam Leivers, who sleeps with Paul to please him, even though she feels little sexual passion for him.
By explicitly depicting human sexuality in his novel, Lawrence flouted the moral conventions of the genre and of society, and his notoriety grew. At least one publisher refused Sons and Lovers because of its sexual content. Lawrence’s theories about human behavior revolved around what he called “blood consciousness,” which he opposed to “mental and nerve consciousness.” Lawrence contended that “blood consciousness” was the seat of the will and was passed on through the mother. This is obvious in Paul and William’s bond with their mother and in Paul’s tenacity and emotional...
(The entire section is 871 words.)