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Sons and Lovers | Motifs



For the most part, characters in Sons and Lovers are happiest when communing with nature. After a vicious fight with her husband, Mrs. Morel feels a sense of communion with the moon while locked out of the house. She smells the pollen of the white lilies in the moonlight and feels "dizzy" as she loses herself, and her anger, in their beauty. Similarly, the negative feelings Mrs. Morel has for the infant Paul disappear in the beautiful light of sunset: as she communes with nature, she is filled with passionate love for her baby. At the same time, Lawrence uses the natural world to represent the character's emotions. The ash tree at the Morels' new house entertains Mr. Morel but frightens the children, symbolizing discord in the family despite their new start together. Similarly, the orange moon Paul and Miriam admire arouses sexual passion in Paul but only spiritual appreciation from Miriam.

Paul bonds with both Miriam and Clara while outside, as the natural beauty of the world washes away their confusion or fear, allowing the young couples to spiritually embrace. In this way nature becomes a sexual language for their passion. This passion is best symbolized in the burning rose bush, which Clara brings Paul to see as a sign of her desire for him. Similarly, after Paul and Clara have sex on the riverbank, her breasts are speckled with crimson carnation petals. The red of the carnation symbolizes both the passion of their union and the scarlet mark of their adultery. In another scene, Miriam, who timidly refrains from having sex with Paul despite loving him, fondles and caresses daffodils "with her mouth and cheeks and brow." In contrast, Paul, who wishes he could sleep with Miriam and Clara without consequence, picks flowers at random simply because he wants them and there are "plenty of them."


Just as Lawrence uses the natural world to strengthen themes in Sons and Lovers, he also uses landscape. Almost all the members of the Morel family feel trapped: either in marriage, job/marriage prospects, gender roles, the army, or oedipal relationships. Lawrence uses the setting of a coal mine to highlight their bondage. The pits are dark, dirty, small confines in which men work to extract natural resources from the earth for human consumption. The men who work there make little money, are angry and violent, and are in constant danger of injury. They drink to numb themselves to the misery of their lives. This is contrasted with the beautiful, open pastoral setting of the farm. Here, Paul breathes fresh air, both physically and spiritually, in his communion with Miriam. Similarly, Mrs. Morel feels fresh, calm, and wholesome while in nature. Under the moonlight, or while lazing among the flowers, the world is open and anything is possible.

The landscape of London also serves to contrast the confines of Bestwood and the coal pits. Mrs. Morel encourages her sons to pursue their educations rather than joining their father in the mines. Literacy gives them the opportunity to travel out of their tiny village to the big cities of Nottingham and London. These moves provide the boys opportunity to shake off the bondage of the working class. Both boys earn attention from middle-class girls, although William dies before he can truly change his social status, and Paul decides he prefers to wallow in the working class with his mother than to leave her behind.

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