Monday, January 07, 2008

Sons and Lovers: Chapters 7 – 10 discussion

I’m beginning to like the book more, but it doesn’t mean I like the characters any better. This section covers the first half of Part II—Paul at work, his relationships with Miriam and Clara, and the declining health of his mother.

There are two quotes in this section that seem to be a key to the book. As Miriam looks at one of Paul’s paintings, she asks:

"Why do I like this so?"
Always something in his breast shrank from these close, intimate, dazzled looks of hers.
"Why DO you?" he asked.
"I don't know. It seems so true."
"It's because—it's because there is scarcely any shadow in it; it's more shimmery, as if I'd painted the shimmering protoplasm in the leaves and everywhere, and not the stiffness of the shape. That seems dead to me. Only this shimmeriness is the real living. The shape is a dead crust. The shimmer is inside really."

Throughout the book, Lawrence also tries to capture that shimmer inside. The second quote comes as Paul is arguing with his mother: “But damn your happiness! So long as life’s full, it doesn’t matter whether it’s happy or not.” Paul, the thinly-veiled Lawrentian character, seeks to live fully and constantly develop himself and others. Yet he is unable to have a healthy connection with a woman, critically hindering his development and full life. Lawrence does not shrink from showing Paul’s faults and exposing him to criticism, a trait that partially offsets the dislike of Paul with a grudging appreciation of Lawrence.

Mrs. Morel’s life is unfulfilled so she lives through Paul in a manner that is well beyond vicarious in manner. When Paul wins prizes, her response is “I knew we could do it.” (emphasis mine) Mrs. Morel wants Paul to move up into the middle class (despite his declaration otherwise) and find a nice girl to make Paul happy. It is always interesting to compare Mars. Morel’s thoughts on how she thinks should be versus her own actions. For example, despite the mother’s statement that “say if a man is GENUINE, as he is, and a girl is fond of him—then—it should be all right,” her appreciation of her husband (who is nothing if not genuine) is anything but all right. She hates Miriam because she feels the girl undermines Paul’s joy, when the unhappiness is all Paul’s doing. Miriam is actually very nourishing and supportive of Paul. Mrs. Morel feels Miriam wants to “absorb” Paul when the absorption quality is of Paul by his mother. Yet Mrs. Morel is astute enough not to go beyond stating her opinion when asked in order not “to have any open rupture” with Paul. Paul and his mother would have sham arguments to “get over the stress of emotion,” joshing each other in a loving manner. Yet Paul has open anger toward his mother at times when she shows her age or sickness. And Paul’s anger is triggered toward Miriam when his mother talks about her. He recognizes that Miriam gives him warmth and insight, yet that clearly isn't enough for him.

Paul continuously claims all he can give Miriam is friendship: “I don't think one person would ever monopolize me—be everything to me.” The irony is thick, even though both Paul and his mother realize that he will eventually find a woman to marry. The baggage he would bring to such a relationship is guaranteed to kill it before it will have a chance. It is also interesting to see the contradiction in the ways Paul and his mother view Miriam. Paul felt that Miriam “did hold the best of him…(but) he could not stay with her because she did not take the rest of him…”, clearly at odds with his mother’s concern of Miriam absorbing him. And Paul’s indecision festers, thinking he belongs to Miriam and that feeling is enough. Both Paul and Miriam are very similar in some respects—both are close to their mothers, and while Miriam is described as being mystical in regards to religion, Paul has the same feeling with nature. Even more ironic is how similar Miriam is to Paul’s mother regarding her dissatisfaction with “her lot,” wanting to do something but plaintively asking “what chance HAVE I?” Paul’s emotions are clearly ignited by Miriam as they swing wildly, from rage to gentleness and back again very quickly, and he is usually unable to know or explain why. Yet he describes Miriam as having “extreme emotion.”

Miriam’s sexuality causes the split within Paul to deepen. He is aroused when she puts her arm in his or when she suggestively and intimately appreciates flowers. His response, unknown to him and usually described as his blood being like a flame inside him, overwhelms him and causes him to draw away from her. Yet another irony is Paul’s appreciation of nature while he is unable to experience the natural arousal without shame (and anger at Miriam for ‘causing’ it). Clara is in contrast to Miriam in that she arouses Paul differently, intellectually as well as physically. Since Clara was still married, however, she was effectively ‘off-limits’ and therefore not threatening. Paul’s constant prodding of Clara into the rupture of her marriage obviously signals a trouble for him. And at one point in his questioning, he even puts the finger on his parent’s marital woes without realizing it. Clara acts very aloof with the younger Paul, apparently for both societal and personal reasons. At the end of this section, Clara highlights the immaturity of Paul in discussing his relationship with Miriam and shows her disdain:
"How do you know what she is?"
"I do! I know she wants a sort of soul union."
"But how do you know what she wants?"
"I've been with her for seven years."
"And you haven't found out the very first thing about her."
"What's that?"
"That she doesn't want any of your soul communion. That's your own imagination. She wants you."
He pondered over this. Perhaps he was wrong.
"But she seems—" he began.
"You've never tried," she answered.

Because of Paul’s repeated misunderstanding of Miriam, I think it is safe to say you have to discount or question all of his statements about her throughout the book.

One last observation on the novel is Lawrence’s obvious love of nature and the countryside. Paul at times almost is nature personified, especially with his wild mood swings and changeability that accompanies every Spring. Characters that move from the country to the city usually worsen physically. His love of Willey farm extends to everything there as well as the country around it. The alienation that Mrs. Morel fosters between the children and their father has echoes in pushing them toward middle-class attainment as well as the emotional schism caused by their dependence on her. These disruptions from the natural flow of things causes many of the problems within the novel.

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