Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

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At the time of writing “The White Stocking,” D. H. Lawrence was immersed in a reading of Arthur Schopenhauer’s works, particularly “The Metaphysics of Love” in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1819; The World as Will and Idea, 1883-1886). He double-underlined a passage that referred to the falsity of the harmony that lovers suppose themselves to feel because this “frequently turns out to be violent discord shortly after marriage.” This is exactly what happens in the “The White Stocking”; the story reveals how hard it is for a man and a woman to attain stability and wholeness in a close relationship, and the destructive and irrational behavior that results when the attempt fails. It suggests that sexual love carries an undercurrent of hostility, even hatred. The sexual overtones of the story are clear from the outset. The reader is made aware of Elsie’s “delightful limbs” and how the sight of her bare flesh excites and disturbs Ted. Elsie’s dance with Adams is described in highly erotic terms, and unbridled sexual taunting immediately precedes the story’s climax.

The basic issue is one that Lawrence was to address throughout his writing career: How was an individual to preserve his or her integrity, freedom, and separate identity when intensely involved in a union with another human being? Ted and Elsie Whiston can be seen as Lawrentian pioneers—even though they are largely unaware of it—in the attempt to attain the “star equilibrium” that Lawrence described in Women in Love (1920): “a pure balance of two single beings,” like “two single equal stars balanced in conjunction.” This ideal state of perfect union and perfect separateness is glimpsed momentarily by Elsie. In the enhanced sensuality of the dance, which anticipates the mystic sexual unions of Lawrence’s later novels, Elsie finds that “the movements of his [Adams’] body and limbs were her own movements, yet not her own movements.” However, she cannot maintain this union, either with Adams or with Ted, because she has found no stable center within herself. She oscillates wildly between two poles of her being, both of which she needs: the rich vitality and dynamism of the dance, but also the “enduring form,” the sense of permanence, that Ted gives her. Because she can find no way of synthesizing the two within herself, the couple seem doomed to a series of temporary reconciliations, each followed by another outburst of hostility and mutual incomprehension.