Sons and Lovers Summary and Analysis: D.H. Lawrence

Read below our complete notes on the novel “Sons and Lovers” by D.H. Lawrence. Our notes cover Sons and Lovers summary, themes, characters, and an analysis of this novel.

Sons and Lovers Introduction:

Sons and Lovers published in 1913 as David Hubert Richard Lawrence’s 3rd novel. It was initially named as “Paul Morel,” and afterward the name was changed. This novel has also been considered as Lawrence’s autobiography because it has some striking similarities with the author’s personal life.

Settings of the novel are in Nottingham Shire, England. The story opens with the description of Gertrude Morel and William Morel’s married life who tied a knot because of love. Walter Morel is a miner and alcoholic. Within the few days of marriage, Gertrude comes to know that Walter has lied with her about his lifestyle. She gets to know that William doesn’t own the house in which they live.

Her disappointment for her husband leads her to a stronger relationship with her son Paul Morel, who is an artist and leads the house after the sudden death of his Elder brother. Paul tries to get out of his mother’s influence by making sexual relations with other girls which his mother dislikes a lot.

Novel’s autobiographical nature becomes explicit when we have a glance over the author’s own life. D.H Lawrence born in Nottingham Shire, England to a coal miner father and schoolteacher mother. Lawrence’s father used to drink a lot and face financial instability due to his attitude. This makes his parents quarrel, and the environment became tensed at the house.

Mrs. Lawrence, finding no happiness with her husband, focused her attention on her son David and extraordinarily influenced his life. This relationship was so much stronger that after the death of his mother Lawrence lefts his job and quitted his relationship with his lover and adopted a bohemian lifestyle.

This novel is also a critique of industrialization in England and its effects on minor miners. The author talks about exploitation and humiliation that is inflicted on the working class of England by the industrialists. He puts the light that these mines are the ugly faces of the countryside.

Sons and Lovers Summary:

The novel opens with the description of settings. Gertrude Morel was pregnant with her third and unwanted child. While she was sleeping, Walter cut off his eldest son’s hair like shorn sheep. They both have an argument over this. Later her husband comes home drunk, and they fight leads to locking Gertrude out of the house.

A flashback scene also occurs, and Gertrude remembers how she and Walter met at a Christmas party, and she loved him not knowing that he was lying about himself. They both get married, and eventually, Gertrude gets to know about the betrayal of her husband and his poverty. They often have argued over his alcoholic nature.

The novel progresses with the birth of Paul, an unwanted child. The parents keep on quarreling, and the father steals money from his wife’s purse. The confrontation by the wife leads Walter to leave him, but he comes back home at night. Walter pays no attention to his family, and the environment of the house gets more tensed.

Gertrude gives birth to another child, Arthur, who has noticeable similarities with his father and receives more love from him by becoming his favorite child. When the eldest son, William, reaches the age of nineteen the father suggested that he should be working as a miner, but the mother fights for the son and sends him to London for work.

Paul and the family remain alienated from their father. Paul finds work at a surgical instruments’ company as a junior clerk. William in London starts dating with a girl, Lily Weston, whose photograph he sends home. Gertrude doesn’t like the girl. William suddenly falls ill and dies of a skin disease. This leads the mother into grief. She nurses her other son, Paul, to her fullest, when he catches pneumonia. Paul recovers from the disease.

Paul and Gertrude develop a deep relationship with each other after the death of William. Paul starts liking a girl, Miriam, who took care of him while he was ill. She is an ambitious girl who tries to change the lot by educating herself. Gertrude dislikes Miriam because she thinks that she will take Paul away from her. Paul shares his feeling towards Miriam with her friend Clara, whom he starts seeing.

Paul leaves Miriam when he decides to be more devoted to his mother who is now an old woman. Paul then develops a strange relationship with Clara. He is not sure whether he is attracted or repelled for Clara. While in confusion he still visits him and develops a relationship with her. Paul diverts most of his attention with Clara, and she tells him about her shattered married life. Paul’s painting is sold to Major Moreton, and it makes his mother happy. She advises him that he should get married now.

Paul patches up with Miriam and tells her that they could not survive the relationship because it didn’t have sex in it. They both sleep with each other, but Miriam holds an opinion that she and Paul are too young for marriage. Paul walks out of her, and it makes both of them irritated with each other. Meanwhile, Paul’s sister and younger brother get married.

After breaking up with Miriam Paul again finds solace with Clara and invites her to meet his mother on the seaside trip. Clara and Paul develop a passionate relationship. Paul happens to meet Clara’s husband Baxter Dawes, with whom he fights and gets injured eventually. Paul finds himself perplexed and divided between his love for his mother and his passion towards other women.

Gertrude Morel gets diagnosed with a tumor and suffers a lot. Paul and his sister give her an overdose of morphine to set her free from the pain. After the death of his mother, Paul finds his life shattered. He wants to finish his life for the sake of his mother, but he doesn’t attempt this. Miriam proposes him for marriage, but he doesn’t accept the offer.

Clara settles down the things between her and Baxter Dawes, and they live happily in Sheffield. Paul becomes a friend of Baxter and Walter, and he sells their house and starts living in rooms in the town. Paul chooses a single life for himself and discovers that he can love only with his mother. There is no place for another woman in his life.

Sons and Lovers Themes:

Oedipus Complex

Freud’s Oedipus complex is the most celebrated theme in the novel. The characters have some striking similarities with the ancient Greek play, Oedipus Rex. The Protagonist himself kills his father unknowingly and gets married to his mother. When he comes to know about this, his mother kills herself, and he removes his eyes with her broaches. Sigmund Freud arguments that there is a hidden desire in every boy to get sexualize with his mother and in girls for their fathers and it is called as Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex respectively.

William and Paul have a strong relationship with their mother. This relationship doesn’t let both of them achieve their love in other girls. Their physical bond with their mother urges them to make a relationship with girls, but they are unable to satisfy their thirst. Paul never liked his father, and he thinks of him to die. His loathe towards Walter shows his Oedipus complex.

Gertrude often tells her boys that she has been into an unhappy marriage and she makes her sons the center of her attention. She disapproves William’s girlfriend Lily and hates Miriam having a reason that Miriam will drift Paul away from her. Paul’s overly stronger bond with his mother is the reason why he was always confused about his love affairs. His relationship with Clara is also evidence of the Oedipus complex. He finds his company with a married, childless woman, whose husband he hates.

Paul’s mother brings him back to life when he faces a pneumonia attack. When she happens to be diagnosed with a tumor, her kids try to console her. Paul overdoses his mother with morphine and pushes him into the face of death. It seems that he does this to get rid of his own complex because he found out that his mother was the only problem with his romantic relations. Like Oedipus, he tries to commit suicide, but then he chooses to live the memories of his mother.

Lack of Free Will

The novel deals with the theme of bondage and free will. Gertrude gets married to Walter due to her free will she remains in the bondage of an alcoholic husband and an unhappy life. Despite hating her relationship with her husband, she was unable to leave him. Then Gertrude develops this bondage for her sons. She influences every instance of their life. Her choice of disliking for their lovers leaves her sons in a constant perplexing thought.

Industrialization is another bondage in the characters’ lives. Mrs. Morel was tired of the mining job of her husband the mines were thought to be places of alive burying. She tries to save her sons from this occupation, but she puts them into other jobs. The writer comments about this industrialization that “he was being taken into bondage”.

The characters are unable to find their free will for their love life. Paul loves Miriam but he didn’t dare to tell this to her, and he shares this with Clara. William despite liking Lily, he couldn’t have her in life because his mother doesn’t like her. So the boys are so much busy in pleasing their mother that they never get their love with other girls.

Social Class

The writer has chosen to portray the binary of social class in the novel. The first protagonist Gertrude has been a former teacher and from the family of professionals. She loathes her husband’s laboring work and thinks of herself as a sophisticated woman. She hates the pit mining jobs and tries hard not to let her sons do this job.

William’s girlfriend from London thinks about the Morel family as they were clowns. William himself acts the way a non-laborer does in front of laborers. Sheer contrast of the two classes is painted with the help of the character of Thomas Jordan. He was the factory owner, and he uses his power when he fires Baxter and tries to make a bond with Paul.

Sons and Lovers Characters:

Gertrude Morel

Gertrude Morel is considered as the protagonist of the novel Sons and Lovers. She was a daughter of an engineer and came from a family of professionals. She met Walter Morel at a Christmas party and was impressed by his looks and dynamic character. They both decided to get married and right after their marriage Gertrude discovered that Walter was not a man she thought he was. Gertrude tried to find her consolation with her sons, especially the eldest, William. After the death of his eldest son, she moved all her expectations to her second son, Paul.

The character of Gertrude was portrayed as a concerned mother, an expecting wife and a woman with morals. She sent William to London to save him from the life of a miner like his father. She focused on Paul and appreciated his life as an artist. But at the same time, she was so much possessive for his sons that she never liked their girlfriends. She showed her disliking toward William’s girlfriend, Lily Weston. She never liked Miriam whom her son loved throughout the novel. She felt somewhat uncomfortable because of the relationship between Paul and Miriam. Her morality is prevalent when, despite having an unwanted relationship, she nursed her husband Walter when he broke his leg.

She was so courageous that she bore the pain of his favorite child’s death and then she took care of her second son Paul who was suffering from pneumonia, and she brought her back to life. She had a tragic end to her own life. She was diagnosed with a tumor, and she was unable to bear her pain. Her death is more than an irony itself. The son whom she helped recovering from pneumonia, along with his sister gave her overdose of morphine which caused the ultimate death of Gertrude Morel.

Paul Morel

Another protagonist of the novel was Gertrude’s son Paul Morel, an artist, a failed lover and an obedient lover. Paul was born as an unwanted child in the house. During his early life his mother gave all her attention to her eldest son, but after his death, she diverts her love for Paul. This young man waa successful artist, but a divided soul between his mother and his lovers and he eventually chose his mother over his girlfriends.

Paul replaced his brother in his mother’s life and made a stronger bond with her. He worked as a junior clerk at a surgical instrument’s company and courted with two women. He loved Miriam from the very early age, but he couldn’t get married to her due to his bond with his mother.

He courts with Clara, an anti-masculine woman, but she was in a failed marriage. Paul tried to tie the knot with Miriam, but it never happened even after the death of his mother. He thought that his soul so much attached to Gertrude Morel that it was the only sake of living after her death. His choice of quitting all worldly activities and his refusal to Miriam’s proposal was an evidence of his devotion to his mother.

Walter Morel

Husband of Gertrude and father of Paul, Walter Morel was a lively character of the novel. He was a coal miner and a hard drinker. He found his happiness in routine life by not bothering much about the family. His enjoyments were his time spent with alcohol and miner friends. After his marriage with Gertrude, he vowed not to drink, but he broke his promise after the birth of William. His careless nature drifted him away from his family, and after the death of his wife, he spent his life with regrets.

William Morel

William Morel was the eldest son of Walter Morel and Gertrude Morel and the first solace to his mother’s unhappy marriage. His wanted him to be a miner like him and earn for the family, but the mother never lets him do the mining job. He was sent to London where he met Lily Weston, with whom he could never have a romantic relationship because his mother didn’t like at all. William died of a skin disease and left his mother in deep grief.

Miriam Leivers

Miriam was the true love and romantic partner of Paul. She was a farm girl with an ambition to change her lot. Her relationship with Paul had been facing ups and downs throughout the novel. She never liked Paul’s attitude of emotional dependency on his mother and critiqued it. When Paul asked her to have sexual relations with him, she agreed with him, but she refused to marriage proposal considering it too early. She offered Paul for marriage which Paul didn’t accept, but she thought that her soul would remain connected to Paul’s.

Clara Dawes

Clara Dawes was another partner of Paul’s romance. She was suffering from a failed married life as she had separated from her husband. She was against men, and Paul found it attractive and repulsive at the same time. Paul shared his feelings towards Miriam with Clara, and she often advised him about Miriam. Paul and Clara’s husband fought for her, and this fight causes injuries to Paul. Afterward, her relationship with her husband got better when she nursed her husband during his illness.

Sons and Lovers Analysis:

Sons and Lovers is a story of relationships and personal bonds. The first protagonist of the novels loves her husband, Walter in the beginning. When she comes to know that Walter is not as per her expectations she ties her sons in a relationship with her. After the death of William, Paul was the only one who receives mother’s affection.

On the other hand, Paul gets attracted to Miriam. His relationship with his mother doesn’t let him be comfortable with Miriam. She has spiritual nature and never becomes happy with sensual love. Paul seeing his mother’s disapproval walks away from Miriam. Clara makes a sexual bond with Paul, and a new relationship occurs.

Paul always remains confused about his relationships with women. He loves Miriam, but they couldn’t make out due to Miriam’s lack of interest in sexuality and Gertrude’s hatred towards her. The relationship of Paul with his mother always deteriorates Paul’s relationship with Miriam.

Miriam herself feels that she can never fulfill Paul’s sexual desires because she likes spirituality. For Paul’s sake, Miriam invites Clara to take over her relationship and let Paul enjoy Clara’s sexuality. These relationships kill and give birth to each other. Gertrude disapproving Miriam and Miriam introducing Clara to Paul are the main events of the novel.

Gertrude’s overpowering nature and her dictating attitude towards her sons’ relationship is noticeable. She doesn’t like Lily, William’s girlfriend when she comes home. This makes William ill and leads him to sudden death. After his death Gertrude hates Miriam, and the main causes are her better family background and her self-worth.

Paul’s attitude toward Gertrude shows his deep emotions with his mother. He never wants to disappoint his mother that he becomes ready to break his relationship with his lover. He doesn’t let any of his girlfriend to interfere between him and his mother. Even after the death of the mother, he rejects Miriam’s marriage proposal because he thinks that it could be a hindrance between him and his mother’s memories.