Department: Department of Foreign Language and Applied Linguistics


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Can Love Conquer All?

Love and Lust in Sons and Lovers


Department of Foreign Language and Applied Linguistics


English Literature


Professor 王景智

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Many major themes can be identified in D.H. Lawrence book of Sons and Lovers, but none was discussed as extensively as the theme of “Love.” Through portraying the different relationships with three women, the author shows the struggles and conflicts among the main characters, especially in Paul Morel. Yet this seemed major theme may prove to be superficial as the author tries to reveal a deeper sense of self-realization of a man and life itself.

In the following paragraphs, a more detailed account of the three relationships will be given to substantiate Paul’s struggle in the ultimate pursuit of life through love and lust.

Because of the different layers of composition resulting from Lawrence’s three stages of writing Sons and Lovers the theme of mother-domination is not as straightforward as it might be. This complication . . . enriches the novel, producing complexity rather than confusion. In the text . . . there are both positive and negative aspects to Mrs. Morel’s influence on Paul (Draper 39).

Under such mother-domination, Paul’s thought and attitude are deeply affected by Mrs. Morel. “Paul’s deep wish to live alone with his mother and not to marry is also encouraged by Mrs. Morel possessiveness” (Burden 67). His love toward Mrs. Morel is deeply rooted in his heart, and this kind of love is not merely a son toward a mother, but also a man toward a woman. In Freud’s formulation: “[son’s] desire to bring his mother (who is the subject of the most intense sexual curiosity) into situations of secret infidelity and secret love affairs” (Freud 223).

When Paul takes his mother to Lincoln he treats her as ‘his girl for an outgoing’ (Lawrence 240). Her aging traumatizes him into fantasizing her as the beautiful young woman he idolized when he was a child. This may be characterized as the son’s deep, unconscious incestuous desire for the mother . . . Not only does he want to live with her in a cottage for ever instead of leaving home and getting married; they also kiss like lovers (Burden 66).

The formative influences in Paul's life radiate from his mother; it is Mrs. Morel who forms the psychological barrier that Paul repeatedly comes up against in his relationship between the women he loves. Paul depends heavily on his mother's love; however, in order to become an independent man, he decided to escape from his mother's influence. “Lawrence has even added that Mrs. Morel’s ‘reserve’ is responsible for Paul’s fear—and he is conscious of this, being thankful that he has his ‘sane and wholesome’ mother. So, Paul’s relationship with his mother has made him frightened of open displays of emotion” (Marsh 40). In the development of Paul’s self-consciousness, his love is repressed. Despite the fact that he pays whole love toward his beloved mother, he still sometimes feels void. In the process of self-development, Paul develops a spiritual love with Miriam and a sexual one with Clara; nevertheless, in spite of his occasional efforts to establish intimate relationships with both women, his affection towards Mrs. Morel always makes him unable to balance between his love for mother and his relationships with other women. Miriam, the first woman who he falls in love with; when he realizes their relationship causes Mrs. Morel’s suffering, he decided to end up the relationship with Miriam and back to his mother’s arms. “And he came back to her. And in his soul was a feeling of the satisfaction of self-sacrifice because he was faithful to her” (Lawrence 222). He is unwilling to see his mother suffering from this relationship. “The deepest of his love belonged to his mother. When he felt he had hurt her, or wounded his love for her, he could not bear it” (215).

As a son, the pure love from a mother is enough; however, as a man, he cannot just be pleased by innocent love. That is, Paul cannot satisfy love and lust at the same time from Mrs. Morel. Sexual contact is the only thing lacking between Paul and his mother, so he tends to seek it from other women. Therefore, he struggles, once tries to be away from his mother, and hesitates between his mother and lovers—vacillates between love and lust. “Paul has immense problems with the realizing of his sexual desire in physical lovemaking. Whenever sex enters into it—when the son is confronted by the female otherness of his lovers—he is no longer himself” (Burden 66-7). After breaking up with Miriam, Paul turns to Clara, who gave him the sexual satisfaction. “The power of that love endangers a split in the son’s psyche between love and sex” (67), and at the same time, causes a split between Paul and his lovers. Mrs. Morel also has not stood so much between this relationship at this time, and Paul himself appears the feeling of betrayal toward his mother; he is aware that he cannot give himself to Clara any more, he can never 'belong' to any woman, at least while his mother is alive.

But no, mother. I even love Clara, and I did Miriam; but to give myself to them in marriage I couldn’t. I couldn't belong to them. They seem to want me, and I can't ever give it them.” “You haven’t met the right woman.” “And I never shall meet the right woman while you live . . .(Lawrence 351).

Moreover, even though a man having sex with a woman is quite normal, Paul is reluctant to let his mother know about his sexual relationship.

Paul would gave died rather than his mother should get to know of this affair. He suffered tortures of humiliation and self-consciousness. There was now a good deal of his life of which necessarily he could not speak to his mother. He had a life apart from her—his sexual life. The rest she still kept (241).

Paul's psychological development is a torture and struggle, especially his emotional conflicts in his early love affairs with Miriam and Clara. He loves his mother too much until no one could substitute her. Paul struggles to free his soul from his mother but at the end he is proved to be incapable of escaping the overpowering emotional bond imposed by his mother's love, so he fails to achieve a successful relationship with either girl. “[H]is life wanted to free itself, and got no farther. She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman” (345).

In the final part of the story, Paul always accompanies the seriously ill Mrs. Morel. “All day long he was conscious of nothing but her” (384). At this very moment, son and mother become more and more intimate, and the split between Paul and other women becomes larger. After Mrs. Morel died from overdose morphine at the end of the story, Paul still cannot escape from the frame of mother-domination—the split still exists. “The death of the mother creates a profound loss, so that the son’s desire can only circle around the gap left by her absence, leaving him void of an essence because his sense of identity was bound to hers” (Burden 68). Even though he struggles in love again and again through the whole story, Paul finally recognizes that he will always loves Mrs. Morel. “Now she was gone abroad into the night, and he was with her still. They were together” (Lawrence 420). “She was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this” (420). Although Mrs. Morel does not exist anymore, Paul already has no ability to love other women, because he gives his whole love to Mrs. Morel. He cannot and will not love anyone again.

The concluding chapter of Sons and Lovers demonstrates that though seemingly able to accept the death of his mother and ready to set about a new life of his own, Paul, as a closer reading shows, is still struggling under the overwhelming authority and gigantic shadow of his mother, for his new life is actually the extension of Mrs. Morel’s will. The possibility of genuine and effective subversion, under the domination of the omnipresent and omnipotent Mother and State, is completely eradicated (Lung-yen).

Paul used to be rather delicate and quiet (48). However, when he is with Miriam, the strong emotions, negative mostly, he never had before appears. He becomes irritable. “And Paul hated her [Miriam] because, somehow, she spoilt his ease and naturalness. And he writhed himself with a feeling of humiliation (179). Paul discovers the other side of himself and feels ashamed of it. One reason is that he does love her, but neither he nor she dares to admit it, which brings agonies in him. Another reason is that he is in bondage to his mother: “And why did he hate Miriam, and feel so cruel toward her, at the thought of his mother. If Miriam caused his mother suffering, then he hated her—and he easily hated her” (193). It is reasonable that Paul becomes so moody because “[r]ecklessness is almost a man’s revenge on his woman” (190).

Paul has been struggling between being an independent man and a mommy’s boy. “I really don't love her. I talk to her, but I want to come home to you” (213). Mrs. Morel loathes Paul's Miriam from the start, understanding that the girl's deep love of her son will oust her: “She's not like an ordinary woman, who can leave me my share in him. She wants to absorb him” (193). The fact that Paul does, indeed, love Miriam makes him unfaithful to the woman whom he owes his fidelity: his own mother. “I shall break off with Miriam, mother….I ought to, oughtn’t I?” (292) Paul cannot stand the feeling that his wanting Miriam as a woman hurts her. Also, Paul does not accept Miriam for she is too spiritual. ”When she bent and breathed a flower, it was as if she and the flower were loving each other. Paul hated her for it” (173). According to Nigel Messenger:

Miriam is often attacked for being too oppressively spiritual, and episodes such as the hen picking grain from her hand in chapter 6 and Paul giving her a swing in chapter 7 seems to an excessive physical timidity that supports this view (Messenger 46).

Moreover, when Miriam finally gives in to Paul, she does it in a spirit of self-sacrifice and that disappoints both of them (418). At last, Paul leaves Miriam to satisfy Mrs. Morel and defend his love to his mother. Miriam arouses his awareness that his heart will always lean to his mother.

The bondage dies out with the death of Mrs. Morel, which sets Paul free at the same time. However, Paul himself does not recognize it at the very beginning: “Everything seemed to have gone smash for the young man” (409). He is trapped by his mother’s death. After, he falls into the debates of his own mind: “What am I doing? And out of the semi-intoxicated trance came the answer: Destroying myself” (411). He is struggling between life that had beaten him and the death that had beaten him: To live or not to live? “[H]is soul oscillated, first on the side of death, then on the side of life, doggedly” (412). Nevertheless, “In despair, he thought of Miriam. Perhaps—perhaps—?” (413). Being liberated at that moment, he opens his heart to Miriam; however, later he finds out Miriam is not the one. But in a sense, Miriam helps Paul realize and face his true self. “He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her [his mother]” (420). The whole process shows Paul’s self-realization to independence.

Clara steps in Paul’s life when Paul and Miriam’s love comes into a deadlock. Though they have met several times before, they do not really form friendship. In despite of Clara’s coldness to him, Paul is still fond of and curious about her. “A hot wave went over Paul. He was curious about her” (Lawrence 277).To Paul, Clara is the kind of woman he never met before. She is totally different from other women, Mrs. Morel and Miriam, in Paul’s life. Furthermore, she offers the chance for Paul to mature from a boy to a man. Both Miriam and Mrs. Morel cannot fulfill his desire in sexuality; the former is shy and afraid of physical contact, and the latter is not the one to fulfill this kind of desire. “The swing toward the affair with Clara is already implicit in the impasse of Paul’s affair with Miriam. It is likewise implicit in the contrast between his parents, for if Miriam appeals to that side of Paul which has affinities with his mother, Clara attracts the sensuous side which links him to his father” (Draper 47).

There are not many physical changes between them; Paul and Clara’s love is mostly based on passion. Her female charm impresses Paul at the first time they met and through their whole relationship. He is obsessed with Clara’s body. “He noticed how her breasts swelled inside her blouse, and how her shoulder curved handsomely under the thin muslin at the top of her arm” (Lawrence 269). Paul and Clara’s relationship begins with friendship. Paul goes to Clara’s house to deliver a message is the first sign in developing further relationship between them. They become more intimate after Clara gives Paul a volume of verse as his birthday present. When he opened the present “he could feel her as if she were present – her arms, her shoulders, her bosom, see them, feel them, almost contain them” (273). However, Paul doesn’t know what exactly he wants so he takes Clara’s advice to go back to Miriam.

Sadly, they fail to get on with each other as before and “After leaving Miriam he went almost straight to Clara” (302). Paul is deeply in love with Clara, every second he wants to see her presence. “He was in a delirium. He felt that he would go mad if Monday did not come at once. …… He could not bear it. He could not see her till Monday” (303 304). They both want each other, desire each other:

Her mouth was offered him, and her throat; her eyes were half-shut; her breast was tilted as if it asked for him. He flashed with a small laugh, shut his eyes, and met her in a long, whole kiss. Her mouse fused with his; their bodies were sealed and annealed. It was some minutes before they withdraw (308).

The reason why Paul is madly in love with Clara in very short time is that she can fulfill his sexual desire which Miriam cannot give him. He feels that he is sacrificing Miriam when they have physical union. “Their mutual delight in the satisfaction of the body is a positive contrast to the one-side, sacrificial sexual union of Paul and Miriam” (Draper 24).

Paul at last decided that it was time to introduce Clara to his family. “Mrs. Morel is rather more concerned about the propriety of Paul’s new affair, and skeptical of its capacity to last, but she, too, condones it, even to the extent of allowing Paul to bring Clara home to tea and to go with her to chapel” (25). On another occasion, Paul walks Clara to the railway station at night and almost makes her miss her train. “Once Clara got on the last train ‘He was gone. She felt the cruelty of it’ (Lawrence 373). This is how their relationship continued from then on with a lot of passion and less understanding” ("Paul's Relationship with Clara in Sons and Lovers" ). “Clara resents the way in which Paul seems to withdraw his conscious self and take no cognizance of her personally. The experience “was something that happened because of her, but it was not her” (Draper 26). Marriage is also a great hindrance between Paul and Clara. “Not only because Clara is already married to another man, but also because Paul is unwilling to commit himself to her in a relationship of companionship as well as passion” (27). Afterwards, Clara’s husband, Baxter Dawes, found the affair of Clara and Paul when they went to the theater, then Baxter and Paul had a fight in the public bar. One day Paul saw Clara home and again attacked by Baxter Dawes and he fought back. Moreover, Paul “seems at the point to be on the verge of strangling Baxter” (26). However, he gave way and was knocked unconscious. Subsequently, it was Paul’s mother who nursed Paul back to health, though she had more serious illness then. The love-affair continues after their fight; however, “the relationship becomes less close, and it is apparent that they starting to drift apart” (26). “The marvelous love-making itself begins to take on a more ‘mechanical’ equality; and even though he recovers physically, he is left with ‘a constant sickness and gnawing at his heart’, and we are told that ‘his life seemed unbalanced, as if it were going to smash to pieces.’” (27).

The dominance of passion and the failing to reach mutual understanding signify the deterioration of Paul’s relationship with Clara. In another aspect, Paul’s falling back in the fight with Baxter Dawes can be interpreted as an expression of “ Paul’s losing his will to live, or as an unconscious acceptance that he is guilty and deserves punishment- not merely for stealing another man’s wife, but for failing to meet the psychological demand of love” (27). Paul also had been criticized by his sister, Annie for “being so wrapped up in himself that ignored the signs of his mother’s condition. It was after his recovery from the fight with Baxter that he found his mother had collapsed and is in bed. It suggests that “there has been some failure in Paul’s attention even to his cherished mother, and that his grief over her illness is also, in some degree, of remorse” (27).

At last, Clara declared that Baxter loved her better than Paul. By restoring Clara to Baxter, “Lawrence seems to suggest that there is a potentiality for renewal in this all but broken relationship which throws into relief the complete blockage in Paul’s emotional life after his mother’s death” (30).
From the above accounts, it is evident that Paul made several unwise decisions in his three relationships and has caused four people, including himself, to engage in a chronic psychological struggle. Yet despite all these mistakes, he seems to successfully overcome his own weaknesses, ignorance, temptations and persistence by making crucial decisions to salvage the already difficult situation at the last moment.

As much as he loves his mother and is unwilling to be part with her, Paul Morel makes up his mind to give an overdose of morphine to his mother in order to end her suffering. This suffering can be depicted as the physical agony of her illness as well as the mental struggle of not being able to have her son. In fact, when Paul is vexing in his own relationships, and Gertrude Morel, too, is at the same time struggling to balance her duty as a mother towards her son and as a lover towards her partner. Gertrude fights till the very end but it was Paul who puts all this misery to a stop.

In the case of Miriam, Paul realizes that he will not be able to devote as much in feelings and he is truthful towards his own sexual desires. Even though he did not exactly give Miriam a clear refusal, his attitude speaks the truth and Miriam senses it.

This is also the case in Clara when he decides to return her to Baxter, her husband, whom is capable of loving her more.

Paul chooses to end all three agonizing relationships. Even though there seems to be a touch of gloomy feel near the end of the story, suggesting that he may take his own life to be with his mother; Paul, however, has his fists shut, mouth set fast and walks towards the light. He did not give up after all, for love is not everything in life.

Work Cited

Burden, Robert. Radicalizing Lawrence: Critical Interventions in the Reading and Reception of D.H. Lawrence's Narrative Fiction. Rodopi, 2000

Freud, Sigmund. On Sexuality: The Penguin Freud Library Volume7, edited by Angela Richards and Albert Dickens (London: Penguin, 1977)

Lung-yen Lin. Domestic Dominance in D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers 200

Marsh, Nicholas. D.H. Lawrence: The Novels New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000

Messenger, Nigel. How to Study a D. H. Lawrence Novel. Hampshire: Macmillan, 1989.
"Paul's Relationship with Clara in Sons and Lovers". 16 Jun 2010 .
R.P. Draper. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. Palgrave Macmillan, 1986.


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