Sons and Lovers: Examine the Relationships Paul has with the Women in his Life

Sons and Lovers: Examine the Relationships Paul has with the Women in his Life

Paul Morel is the main character in DH Lawrence’s novel ‘Sons and Lovers’. The story charts his early life from when his parents married and the subsequent birth of four children, through childhood and early adulthood to the death of his mother. During this time three women have a major impact on his life, his mother, Miriam and Clara. Each has the most influence at different times in his life and can be attributed to his childhood, being a young man and early adulthood respectively; but each woman’s influence carries on to shape Paul into the man he becomes.

From the very beginning there is a connection between Paul and his other in that he looks like her with his dark hair and blue eyes. As a child ‘he seemed old for his years’, grave and serious like Mrs Morel. He is a quiet boy but spirited much like his mother and this increases with age as his other’s influence becomes more apparent. ‘When she fretted he understood, and could have no peace. His soul seemed always attentive to her’ is the way their attachment is described; their bond is very strong and very deep.

As Paul grew older she never suffered alone for her husband’s faults and what she lacked in life because ‘her children suffered with her’. ‘It hurt the boy keenly, this feeling about her, that she ad never had her life’s fulfilment’ so much so that it became his ‘childish aim’ to provide it. When he began to work ‘it was almost as if it were her own life’. ‘Paul almost hated his mother’ for this suffering when his father did not come home from work. He felt she should not waste herself on a man like his father when she could rely on her son.

This stems from the jealousy Paul feels of his father because of his place in the household, in his mother’s affections and efforts, all of which he disregards. Paul never had a strong constitution as he was subject to bouts of bronchitis. Described as ‘delicate’, this accounted for his mother’s ‘difference in feeling for him’ compared with her other children. She treated him more tenderly and felt he was of a better mettle than her other children but physically weaker so ‘she always felt a mixture of anguish in her love for him’.

Further to this Paul could never go home ’empty to his mother’ not even when collecting blackberries and because he never did so she did not expect to be disappointed by him. ‘That he felt he would disappoint her he would have died rather’ which is a major reason why he broke it off with Miriam – his mother did not like her, she felt Miriam id not make Paul happy, nor would she make a good wife. Paul could do better. Mrs morel was also jealous of Miriam and felt that if they should become heavily involved and marry ‘she’d leave me no room – not a bit of room-‘.

Paul was also jealous of William, his older brother, whom his mother had a more passionate relationship with. After his death when Mrs Morel could not pull herself out of her grief and barely spoke to Paul, he became ill and lost the will to live until she woke from her grief-stricken stupor. Paul was more of a companion to his mother, particularly after William’s eparture to London and his eventual death; ‘Mrs Morel’s life now rooted itself in Paul’. She told him all her troubles and ‘he took it in as best he could’ as a child and a man.

Although the book depicts Paul as being more himself when he is with Miriam it is necessary for him to have his mother to soothe him. ‘His ridiculous hyper-sensitiveness made her heart ache’ and it made him miserable so he found relief in the company of his mother. However, Miriam cultivated this sensitive nature to match her own and to such an extent that he can’t bear to be himself or see himself reflected in Miriam. He begins to hate Miriam because she does this to him, she makes him what he doesn’t want to be, and because she is not like his mother.

This relationship he has with his mother is also slightly ambiguous with incestuous overtones to it. For example the interview at Jordan’s in Nottingham which Mrs Morel attends with the young Paul allows them time to amble around the city ‘feeling the excitement of lovers having an adventure together’. His heart often ‘contracts with pain of love for her’. Miriam is Paul’s first love, the daughter of a ‘local’ family who live on a farm about eight miles away. A comparison can be drawn with Miriam very early on in the book when Paul breaks his sister’s doll and then sacrifices it.

This act ‘disturbed Annie inwardly, although she could say nothing. He seemed to hate the doll so intensely because he had broken it. ‘ This can be seen as a metaphor for the following relationship with Miriam: he hates her because he thinks he has broken her heart and her spirit when in fact, as he finds out later, he really hasn’t done either. Paul appears different to other men for Miriam, he is finer, more artistic and sensitive than most other men, particularly her father and brothers.

Paul is all that Miriam would like to be when he is described as ‘quick, light, graceful, who could be gentle and who could be sad, and who was clever, and who knew a lot and who had a death in the family’; he is mysterious and learned. Miriam is very subservient and reverent to Paul as shown when she make the swing comfortable for him and ‘that gave her pleasure’. This attitude towards him irritated Paul so much that he ‘stormed at her, got ashamed… and grew furious again, abusing her’, this was the course of their relationship.

Miriam puts her soul into everything from algebra to loving her younger brother. Sometimes he hated her’ as he did both Clara and his mother at times because ‘her intensity, which would leave no emotion on a normal plane, irritated the youth into a frenzy’;. At times like these he was ‘thankful’ for his mother and her reserve. It is also apparent that Miriam understands Paul and vice versa. Often she doesn’t understand why she feels a certain way, particularly about bis paintings, so he explains it to her because he knows why.

Similarly, ‘she managed to find some meaning in his struggling, abstract speeches’ which sometimes, as shown by his fluctuating feelings towards Miriam, he does ot always understand or speak completely truthfully. Relating to this is Miriam’s belief that Paul makes things real for her, ’till he had seen it she felt it had not come into her soul. Only he could make it her own, immortal. ‘ This appears like an almost complete reliance at first yet we realise when Miriam ends it that Paul always clung to her like ‘a four year-old child’ rather than she clinging to Paul.

As for intimacy between the two of them, it went on in ‘an utterly blanched and chaste fashion’ although Miriam did eventually give herself to Paul physically but ‘her soul stood apart’. She loves him again when he is gentle and talks of trees but separates herself from the act. She can never give herself to him totally, as his mother and Clara could not either, so he eventually leaves her. He does say that he would ‘give anything’ to want to marry her, make love to her, be gentle with her and share her reverie and religious dreams but he can’t.

Eventually it becomes a duty to see Miriam. He returns to her one Spring after avoiding her all Winter because he feels he should. ‘He loved Miriam with his soul… If ever he should marry… it would be his duty to marry Miriam. Miriam eventually is a chore and when ‘the dance’ becomes too old Paul leaves her, just as she expected him to. Clara is the other major female figure in Paul’s life. She is the estranged wife of Paul’s colleague Baxter Dawes and somewhat older than Paul.

The relationship with Clara is very much a physical one and could perhaps be contrasted to the relationship with Miriam in a physical versus spiritual context. His mother’s influence can again be seen in this relationship when early in the book Mrs Morel’s arms are described as very handsome, strong arms’, a feature which he finds attractive in Clara. He is fascinated by their ‘dull gleam’. As with all the women in Paul’s life there was ‘something in Clara Paul disliked’. He feels physically stifled by her as he was inwardly stifled by Miriam; he can’t paint near her because he feels he must talk to her.

She criticises his work so he thinks she doesn’t understand it and is disappointed in her. Like Miriam, he then abused her ‘but she was amused’. This again irritates him because ‘she stinks with silent pride’. Despite this dislike of her in some ways he lusts after her and aches to see her. Sunday comes between his visits and t goes slowly, hour after laborious hour. He is physically enamoured of her, for example ‘her ear, half hidden among her blonde hair, was near to him. The temptation to kiss it was almost too great. This leads to the fact that for Paul sex is the culmination of intimacy, but as for Miriam, it is not with Clara either. This proves Paul’s relationship with Clara is purely physical, as shown by the descriptions of her such as ‘He could see her figure inside the dress, as if that were wrapped closely round her. ‘ In all the relationships are very different between Clara and Miriam but if ou added the aspects of them together they create something of the relationship Paul had with his mother but in a more sexual context.

In all of them Paul is content, yet discontent, happy yet sad, calm but angry – he is a mass of contradictions and seems to realise this at the end of the book when he not only symbolically walks away from the mistakes and people of the past but his past self also. It is obvious his mother had a great effect on Paul not only in his actions but in the development of his personality and will probably continue to after her death.

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Sons and Lovers: Examine the Relationships Paul has with the Women in his Life. (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved April 7, 2020, from