Lady Chatterley's Lover | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Symbols


Clifford's Wound

Clifford Chatterley's wound symbolizes the need for each person—and for humanity as a whole—to find salvation. His wound is both physical and psychological. It has damaged his body and limited his physical abilities. It has also damaged his very essence, that which makes him human and allows him to engage in life in a healthy and meaningful way. His wound represents the paralysis of postwar England, the alienation and loss of meaning of the postwar generation, and the emptiness and industrialization of modernity.

World War I shattered the world's innocence and optimism in many ways and left millions of people searching for meaning. It also coincided with the rise of industrialization, which benefited the machinery of war and led to economic and social changes that compounded the sense of meaninglessness experienced by the postwar generation.

D.H. Lawrence feared personal, social, and national wounds threatened the very survival of humanity. He believed the key salvation was an acceptance of basic human instincts. By acting on these instincts, people could form loving relationships, find meaning, and counteract the negative influences of industrialization and soul-dampening social restrictions.

In Chapter 5 Connie Chatterley perceives this wound as causing "the background of [Clifford's] mind [to fill] up with mist, with nothingness." She also realizes an essential truth about the human soul: the physical body may recover, but the wound to the soul may not. Instead, it festers and "slowly deepens its terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche." The wounds to the nation, to humanity as a whole, are just as insidious and pervasive—silently destroying what was good in people and, like with Clifford, filling the void with nothingness. In Chapter 16 Oliver Mellors predicts that if humans keep going as they are, they will kill each other off or make themselves and others insane. He affirms Lawrence's message of salvation by saying, "the root of sanity is in the balls."

Clifford's Wheelchair

Clifford Chatterley's wheelchair is in many ways a symbol of industrialization. Clifford lacks the ability to use his lower body because of his war injury and must rely on a machine for movement. His dependence on the wheelchair gives machinery power over the human body. It also limits his knowledge of the world. In Chapter 5 Clifford wheels himself to a favorite spot in the woods, but he cannot wheel the chair down the slope. He waxes philosophically about his desire to preserve the spot as he considers it "the heart of England" and he wants it to remain untouched and preserved, with no one trespassing in it. Unbeknownst to him, the world has intruded on it. His father had cleared trees for the war's needs, and through the breach in the woods the colliery railroad and a coal plant can be seen.

Lawrence believes industry dehumanizes people and damages their ability to live life fully. He shows how machinery harms life in several scenes in which the wheelchair tramples plants and flowers. In Chapter 13, as Clifford navigates his chair through a path in the woods its "wheels jolt over the wood-ruff and the bugle, and squash the little yellow cups of the creeping-jenny." Later when he attempts to get his wheelchair started he smashes the flowers without concern for the damage he is causing. From Clifford's perspective the only thing that matters is getting the machine moving, and anything that stands in its path can be destroyed. This matches the industrialists' views: they are willing to pillage Earth of its resources and destroy the environment to support their industrial needs. The scene in Chapter 13 in which Oliver Mellors pushes the malfunctioning wheelchair highlights the superiority of human physical strength to machine energy.


The woods surrounding Wragby symbolize the conflict between the old and the new. In Chapter 5 Clifford Chatterley describes these woods as old England and the heart of England. He wants to preserve them so they remain as they have always been for centuries, when they were part of a larger forest in which Robin Hood and his band traveled. This desire reflects his resistance to change and idealization of tradition.

The old England, however, is no more. The clearing where Sir Geoffrey Chatterley cut trees for the war needs illustrates the loss of that England. In Chapter 5 the narrator describes the clearing as full of dead and barely living things, such as "a ravel of dead bracken," tree stumps with "grasping roots," "a thin and spindly sapling," and blackened vegetation. This shows the decay of both the woods and England.

The woods in turn become the meeting place for Oliver Mellors and Connie Chatterley. Connie is more open to change than her husband and knows that modernity is creeping into the countryside surrounding the Wragby estate and into Wragby itself. Unlike her husband she does not want to embrace the past for tradition's sake. Nor does she want to stop modernity or embrace it. She is disillusioned with the meaninglessness of her husband's stories and the life of the mind, as demonstrated by her husband's and his friends' intellectual talk. She finds something lacking in her so-called intimate life with her husband and the absence of any physical touch. This drives her out of the house and into the woods. The woods become the stage on which Connie's sexual awakening occurs and where the restorative power of sex for both Mellors and Connie takes place. They reject both the tradition of social norms and modernity and find personal salvation in the primal human instincts that have survived through time.

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