Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sons and Lovers: Chapters 11 – 15 discussion

A few words on the last chapters as well as comments on themes and topics from the book:

The relationship between mother and sons (particularly Paul and William) is unhealthy and troubling in a much different way than I was expecting from the reputation of the book. The dependence the sons have on her as well as the ideal she has created frustrates and limits their ability to have normal relationships with women. The more I read about Miriam, the resemblance to Mrs. Morel deepened. I mentioned their shared disappointment with life in the previous post, but there is a disquieting scene in this section where Miriam admits her desire to have Paul’s children, which to some degree is the ultimate reason she wants to marry him. In other words, she’ll love his children but can’t fully love him. This echoes Mrs. Morel’s situation with her husband to a large extent. And Mrs. Morel’s projection of Miriam wanting to “absorb” Paul masks her own assimilation of him.

Miriam’s sensuousness comes through when she appreciates nature, plus she seems to have a heightened experience of it (nature) through or with Paul. In contrast, there are times when Mrs. Morel has flashes of sensuality with Walter, her love surfacing occasionally through the disappointment. She gives in to that feeling which is in sharp contrast to Paul, who fights and despises how such desire makes him feel. He ultimately gives in to his desire for Miriam, mostly because he hopes it will complete or round out his feelings for her rather than for the feeling itself (or that matter, for Miriam). And Paul’s desire of Clara, an older married woman, is far more troubling. Despite his mother’s death and Paul’s breaking clean of Miriam and Clara, I don’t get the feeling that his future relationships will be any better thanks to the ambiguous ending.

While the book highlights the impotence and frustration of men, it fully conveys the powerlessness of the females characterized. Their options are limited in most aspects of life. I’ve mentioned Mrs. Morel’s and Miriam’s outbursts, but in this last section the limitations for Clara are starkly drawn. Earlier in the book, Paul helps Clara get a job at Jordan’s, but the embarrassment she shows is palpable when Paul drops in unannounced and sees Clara and her mom making lace. Despite her involvement in the feminist movement and her attempt to act above social conventions, she realizes her choices are restricted if she wishes to participate socially in a meaningful way. There are several conflicting reasons for her return to her husband at the end of the novel, but the limitation of her options because she is a woman is a powerful one.

Much of the book emphasizes strife or struggle, both external (between spouses, siblings, family members, generations, lovers, etc. or with any of these against society) and internal (consciously or unconsciously). I would have to read back through the book, but the only truly happy married pair I can recall are the Leivers (Miriam’s parents). Maybe Mrs. Morel’s parents fell into that category, but they don’t have much substance in the book other than the traits Gertrude took from her father. The internal struggles are highlighted often and drive most of the characters. One interesting question to delve into (I won’t do it here since I didn’t think of this point until after finishing the book) is how responsible society is for many of the struggles and which had a more proximate cause from someone in particular. In conjunction with the strife there is an emphasis on healing at various times, whether physical, moral or a conciliation.

An additional point I didn’t catch until near the end of the book is Lawrence’s use of color, associating certain colors with particular characters. I didn’t catch this until Paul and Clara first make love—the color red was in abundance through flowers, clay, and radishes. This may be a stretch, but it dawned on me that Mr. Morel had red and black emphasized, the red usually tied to his sensuous nature. Seeing it again with Clara means it may have been intended since that is consistent. It would be something to keep in mind upon re-reading the book.

Mrs. Morel’s deterioration and death are powerful scenes. The conflict between Paul and her at the end is macabre at best, with Paul (and Annie) wishing her dead while she fights to stay alive. The self-interest revealed in that conflict taints the good deeds that all sides perform (Mrs. Morel not complaining during her pain and illness, Annie and Paul taking care of her). Mrs. Morel unburdening her bitterness toward her husband to Paul while on her deathbed captures her disappointment and selfishness. The laugh between Annie and Paul when he crushes all the morphia pills to put in their mother’s milk, described as a “little sanity” in all the horror, feels like anything but sane. Despite this behavior, the culmination of Mrs. Morel’s disease is painful to watch. I found myself questioning why she was hanging on to life so tenaciously…was it because of her nature, because of her love, or for some other reason? And why did Annie and Paul wish her dead—was it to cease her pain? Because of the characters’ frequent selfish behavior, their motives aren’t clear. That ambivalence dovetails nicely with much of the book since characters aren’t always conscious of their motives. The struggle between conscious choices and unconscious desires frames the entire novel and gives many scenes their power.

Next: two screen versions of Sons and Lovers—the 2003 adaptation for TV and the 1960 movie version. The next book will be James Joyce’s Dubliners.

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