The protagonist of the second half of the novel, Paul Morel struggles to discover his passion under the shadow of his mother's suffocating love. For most of his young adult years Paul loves his mother more than anyone else. They act like lovers, embrace and care for each other, take brief trips together, and, when Paul is seriously ill, sleep in the same bed, which helps him recover. Despite being a talented painter and easily finding factory work, Paul's greatest ambition is to grow old in a little cottage with his mother. When Paul matures and experiences a sexual awakening, he tries to find a lover who fulfills him in the same way his relationship with his mother once did. He experiments with Miriam Leivers and Clara Dawes, but ultimately ends up alone. Once he realizes that his relationship with his mother has been holding him back, Paul cannot wait for his ailing mother to finally die. Along with his sister Annie, Paul gives his mother an overdose of morphine that ends her life. Free from her suffocating love, Paul feels aimless and even considers suicide.
Gertrude Morel deals with disappointment and loss her entire life. As a young woman she longs to pursue her education but is held back by gender expectations and an overbearing father. She runs away with Walter Morel after meeting him at a dance, but their initially happy marriage crumbles under his alcoholism and abuse. Without a husband to share her life with Mrs. Morel transfers all her affection to her sons, first William and then Paul. She jealously guards her sons' affections to ensure they always love her best. When William dies, Mrs. Morel falls into a deep depression and only rouses when Paul also falls dangerously ill. She spends the rest of her life as Paul's companion, judging and critiquing any woman who threatens to usurp her place.
Miriam Leivers is Paul's best friend growing up. They share the same love of art and literature, although Miriam hasn't had much formal education. Miriam loves Paul but feels timid about sexuality, especially before marriage. She views sex as suffering, or a sacrifice that must be made for the greater good of marriage. In all things thoughtful and pensive, Miriam struggles to simply let herself go and embrace passion boldly. This can be seen in her timid response to feeding the hens or riding the swing and in her romantic relationship with Paul. As a devoutly religious girl, Miriam longs for a spiritual connection with Paul, while he longs instead mostly for a physical one.
Clara Dawes is a sexually liberated, childless suffragette. On the surface she appears to be a "modern" woman, especially when compared to Miriam's timid traditionalism. Clara leaves her husband and takes Paul, a younger man, as her lover. Although the reader is told of Clara's intelligence, it isn't really emphasized. Clara spends the majority of her relationship with Paul feeling merely possessive of him. When her estranged husband, Baxter, falls ill, Clara returns to him and her traditional gender role, which suggests perhaps she isn't as modern as first portrayed.
William Morel is the oldest of Mrs. Morel's children and the initial focus of her obsessive love. Mrs. Morel dotes on William as a child, much to her husband's jealousy. In retaliation Mr. Morel cuts off William's beautiful, curly hair, an act that is the final nail in the coffin of their dead marriage. Unlike Paul who returns his mother's affection equally, William leaves home for London. He becomes engaged to a middle-class woman, although he realizes they probably aren't the best match after bringing her home to meet his family. He burns his love letters to show his mother that he loves her best but continues to attend dances and date women, knowing it makes her jealous. It seems William is on the path to discovering passion outside his relationship with his mother, but he tragically dies young.