Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

Sept 2010

(Novel) Sons and Lovers by: D.H. Lawrence

(Reaction) Life's Eternal Thrums by: Camille Tay Silos

While Sons and Lovers suggests that the story is of men and their being 'lovers', upon close-reading, one may say that this is the story of women and their being 'lovers' as well. While the entirety of the novel delves into the love that exists between a mother and her son/s and the love that is found between a man and a woman, it encompasses the generality of life, growing up, dreams, pain and death in 471 pages. Published in 1913, the novel speaks of the ever-present truth about life, love and death, making the novel the story of a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a lover, a friend and the self or the self-to-be.

The novel offers its readers the ever-present mix-up of people from all races and from all times - infatuation or love. When Paul could not get enough of Clara's beauty, doing whatever was necessary to touch her, such as dropping his programme so that he could kiss her hand and wrist during the drama, and when Clara deemed herself in love with Paul, acting like a love-struck fool in their working area, one cannot tell if what Paul felt for her was indeed love or infatuation since he seemed quite adamant in the beginning to stop seeing Miriam to pursue his interest with Clara and yet later on not really taking care of her as he would have wanted to.

While Paul says that his 'sexual' life is kept apart from his 'normal' life, he is not satisfied with the way things are despite the fact that he is the reason for the way things are. What is going through Paul Morel's mind? Why can he not give himself to Miriam or to Clara? Strangely, the answer to these questions lies in his unnatural relationship with his mother.

The Oedipus complex is seen so clearly in the novel that while the thought in itself is disturbing, in reading the novel, the reader comes to accept the relationship, albeit unnatural, as the only natural course for Mrs. Morel and her son/s since she has lost all feelings of love for her husband and transferred them to her sons. In the first part, for one, there existed a competition between William and Paul for their mother's attention, which was mirrored in the second part when the competition was between Paul and Arthur. Jealousy, despise and love for the other sibling warred within the three of them.

However, it is clear that early on in the novel, while William might have been Mrs. Morel's first 'lover', Paul turned out to be her first 'partner'. When the two talk of things, they talk with such enthusiasm and wit that they resemble two children sharing their views with each other and agreeing most of the time rather than a mother and a son. Their relationship is so powerful that Paul even begins to voice his mother's own thoughts as if they were his own. This 'voicing her thoughts' would later on lead to him not knowing what to think of things and women without his mother's view and; in a way, would leave him incapable of living on his own.

This, as the novel shows in a frightening yet intriguing way, is the power of the mother over her sons and how she 'lives' through her sons because of this power. Earlier, it was noted that Mrs. Morel commented on wanting to be a man to her friend, John Field. However, since the deed is done and she was brought into the world as a woman, she lives through her sons, feeling fulfilled, for instance, when Paul won first place for his art and continued winning first place as he continued to grow up. She is so keen on keeping Paul close to her like an item so precious and not like a beloved son who she would have liked to see find his place in the world and live happily, not wanting to lose him like she had lost William and not liking it when he went through some changes that made him not the 'Paul' she wanted him to be, treating him as if he was a doll that she wanted to dress and play with.

Paul, on the other hand, is knowledgeable of the fact that he is indeed his mother's 'life', and instead of being scared by such an unnatural thought (or obsessive love), he still says that his love belonged to his mother alone. He finds that the one place that is still is the place where his mother is and because of this love for her, he has resolved not to marry while she is still alive so that they would be together always.

One can see how much Paul loves his mother in the way he views women as an extension of one's mother, saying that a woman was like their mother and that they were full of the sense of their mother, and how he felt so wretched and unable to stand on his own after his mother had passed away, thus showing the effects of how much his mother had controlled him to the point that he reverts to being like a child who was lost and was desperately searching for guidance.

While this is quite normal in the sense that every child would feel extremely saddened by their parent's death and would be lost for some time, the next image destroys the normalcy. When Mrs. Morel passed away, he had "...kissed her passionately...", placing the Oedipus complex idea into full throttle. While the love that the two had shared was indeed something bordering or even in the obsessive side, it was and is something that happens nonetheless. However, to kiss the corpse of one's dead mother passionately is something that gives the image of a lover rather than a son. He kisses her because he has lost the one person he has loved. He kisses her because he is lost. He kisses her because she was the only woman he loved with all his being and the one who had sucked his soul dry.

However, upon closer inspection of the death of Mrs. Morel, it would seem that Paul is not so innocent and that he had kissed her passionately for a different reason - guilt. In the first part of the novel, for instance, when he had broken Annie's doll, Arabella, he made a sacrifice for the doll. When the doll had been burned, he said to her, "...I'm glad there's nothing left of her" and Annie noted that Paul seemed to hate the doll because he had broken it. As he watched the burning process with "wicked satisfaction", rejoicing silently at the destruction of the doll he had broken, it comes to the readers' attention that Paul does not like things which are broken, especially if he is the reason why they are broken in the first place.

This state of being broken is seen over and over again whenever Paul looks at his mother and sees that she is getting older, referring to his anxiety as a wound that would not mend, thinking over and over that his mother suffered because of him and the love he had for Miriam and Clara. He blamed himself for her getting older, weaker and sadder. Whenever he looks at his mother, he snaps or breaks apart within and, when he had offered her milk with morphia in it, she had looked at him with eyes that seemed to know something, maybe knowing that he had given her quite a large does of morphia.

Did Paul deliberately kill his mother by placing too much morphia in the drink because she resembled Arabella in the way they were both broken? Did Mrs. Morel know that something would happen that would lead to her death? All these questions are left unanswered and the reader has only to guess with the clues left by the author. Throughout the entire novel, for one, characters wish for death. When William died, for example, Mrs. Morel had wanted to die in her son's place so badly despite the fact that what was done could not be undone. Then, when the family found out that she had cancer, she saying that the tumor had been there for a long time, indicating the pain of her entire life and not just the tumor, Paul said quite surely that he would die for her, Mrs. Morel chided him by saying that no one can die when they want to, leading later on to Paul wishing that his mother would die. This wishing that his mother would die was the link between the destruction of the doll and the death of Mrs. Morel. His not wanting to see his mother suffer anymore, to see her being in a broken state end as fast as it can yet, at the same time, wishing that she would not die and continue to live by his side. However, in the end, death was the path Mrs. Morel had to go down despite her wanting to die or not.

Thus, with the death of Mrs. Morel, life seems to become still for Paul, and throughout the entire novel, this 'keeping still' is reiterated over and over again as some sort of preparation for the final decision of Paul in the end. The first time this 'keeping still' was used in the novel was when Paul and Miriam held each other just as it had began to rain and both did not want to move. They clasped themselves to each other and reveled in the moment of peace and contentment they had attained then and there. Thus, 'keeping still' is a reveling of some sort.

The second time was when Paul was beaten up by Baxter Dawes, Clara's husband. Left behind in the snow, he lay still and slowly felt better, not wanting to move. However, when he thought of his mother, his wanting to go back to her, he stood up from the ground and made his way home, the 'keeping still' moment here one of healing.

The next moment of 'keeping still' was when Mrs. Morel and Paul held still when they had found out about her having cancer, neither of the two wanting to move in order to preserve the moment of her being alive, being here, and not dead. By keeping still, they thought that they had stopped her body's progression towards death.

Slowly, this 'keeping still' takes on a destructive form. When she had passed away, however, Paul held himself stiff then thought, "What am I doing?" only to answer himself, "Destroying myself." It seems to Paul that he is not capable of living in the world without his mother by his side, without his mother telling him what she thinks and loving him with her entire being. He has been wrung dry by his mother and there was nothing left behind. In the end, however, Paul does not decide to stay with this stillness despite it holding the presence of his mother with him. In the end, he breaks the 'stillness' by walking towards the town quickly, signaling his wanting to live and not die.

Though Part 1 and Part 2 end with the death of a certain character - William in Part 1 and Mrs. Morel in Part 2 - the novel always offers a ray of hope for the characters. In Part 1, Paul was Mrs. Morel's ray of hope while Paul's ray of hope was the future. People come into this world, live their life, love who they want to love, dream whatever they can dream, grow up to become stronger people, work for the betterment of their family and selves, struggle with others, struggle with religion, struggle with nature or their environment, struggle with themselves, and, in the end, when the people they love most are taken away from them and they are left on their own, there are two paths for them to take: the path of destruction and the path of life. It is entirely up to the character and the person to choose which path they will go on, for whichever path they walk down, life will surely continue moving forward and never stay still.

Review:

I love a novel that promises to offer a wide range of tales in one go. "Sons and Lovers" did just that by giving me a taste of various conflicts and characters to play with in my mind. And what really made it a wonderful read was that, despite the tale being written and set in the early 1900s, it still thrums in the background of the present. Insights on love, life, death, class conflicts, discrimination, fears, power plays, intrigues, hope and more come out of the pages and circle the reader in a wild, uncoordinated and captivating dance. It is a piece of Literature that, at the beginning, I found difficult to focus on and even considered placing away. Yet, with much perseverance, I came to love the writing style of Lawrence and the world he had created. I have heard time and time again that a writer writes best what they have experienced themselves, and, for Lawrence, it proves itself to be true.

While the entire story is open for interpretation, it is also said that Sons and Lovers is D.H. Lawrence's greatest work in the sense that it is the most autobiographical in nature (vii). While it is true that most great works arise when the writer has experienced what he or she is writing firsthand, to place down the accounts so artistically and truthfully at the same time. One great example is how he writes down conversations between Morel and Mrs. Morel. While Mrs. Morel speaks in good English, Morel on the other hand speaks like a child, saying something that may make much more sense if spoken out loud and not read. It is proven thus that Lawrence's mastery for language is not only in the linguistics but on the phonetics as well. That he is able to capture the personality of the characters more fully via his language has made the story a much more mesmerizing read. It makes the characters and story more believable. While an author must pride himself or herself for writing a fluid and perfect narration, he or she must also take into consideration the reality of their characters. Not all people in the world speak perfectly or coherently, and to show this alongside their common mannerisms like saying "Eh" instead of "Ah" makes the reading more enthralling since one as to say it out loud and try his or her best to get the right way of how they think the characters are saying it.

Another thing that makes Lawrence's work quite notable is in the simplicity of how it is written. Lawrence does not go overboard with his descriptions and drama. Everything is kept just right. Never focusing too long on details that would not matter, such as how the view looked from head to toe, what tree did they pass, how many items were there in the house - he gave just the right amount of attention to every detail in the novel to ensure that the readers would not grow bored from reading things which they have absolutely or little interest in and leaves these details to tackle the issues or concerns that are much more pressing. It is in stories like these that prove to readers and writers alike that simplicity is a powerful tool for presenting what one wants to say and having the audience understand what he or she is trying to say without much explanation. While there are words that have changed from 1913 to the present, it is still written so that despite the changes in the times, the words could still be linked to their present word and meaning. A few examples are morphia for morphine and programme for the program of the drama or play.

While the language and simplicity are notable enough, another aspect of Lawrence's writing that makes the work move like a panther in a cage, moving back and forth restlessly in the small space it has been given, growling and tense, waiting to jump out and run into the wild, is the power of his characters' emotions and feelings that flow off the pages and seep into the readers' skin, drawing them nearer to the characters and their own motives. The greatest example is Mrs. Morel. While readers might not personally like the idea of her having a possessive, obsessive love for her son/s, she makes it so that the readers side with her, first of all by making her the spunky housewife that does not allow her husband to take the power away from her and by continually doing everything she can to ensure that her son/s would always return to her despite their current infatuation with a certain girl. She is so strong that she manipulates the people, especially her sons, to remember or heed her words and even have them think the way she does. Despite her overbearing and unnatural love, she is the kind of character that readers later on sympathize with and hope that she would leave Paul in the state he is in. Another great example is Miriam. Though the reaction did not tackle her deeply, she is one of the most memorable characters in the sense that she is so strange in her way of behaving that when she comes to love Paul and loves him with her soul, willing to sacrifice himself to whatever he wanted, the readers feel that she is either a saint with a tight hold on Paul or a saint that wanted to be rewarded for her being good by getting what she wanted.

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