Sons and Lovers | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Sons and Lovers | Part 1, Chapter 4 : The Young Life of Paul | Summary



Paul's close bond to his mother begins to reveal itself as "his soul seemed always attentive to her." He is also aligned with his mother and siblings against his father. In a flashback Paul recalls his father's ongoing bullying and drinking. When Morel once punched his wife in the face, his brother William wanted to fight it out with his father, but his mother would not allow it. Paul's early memories are filled with hatred of his father and the fervent wish that Morel would stop drinking. His father drank after work, arriving home drunk, "churlish and hateful." He would yell at the children if they made noise, making "the family writhe with hate of the man." As a result, the father was "shut out from all family affairs" and the children did not want to talk to him.

Paul is "a delicate boy, subject to bronchitis" and his mother had feared he wouldn't survive, leaving her with "a mixture of anguish in her love for him." He admires the brave way she deals with "suffering and disillusion and self-denial" and wishes he could help her feel more fulfilled. When he is ill he calls for her, and he loves "to sleep with his mother" and feel her warmth as he "lay against her." After William leaves home, "the mother made a companion of Paul," who is shy and sensitive. On Fridays it is his task to pick up his father's earnings at the office and then bring them to him at the bar. The men at the office mock his soft voice and quiet manner, and Paul is overwhelmed, declaring to his mother that he doesn't want to "fetch the money" any more. When his mother asks him why, he says the people are "hateful, and common." Mrs. Morel finds his "hypersensitiveness made her heart ache." On Friday nights Paul stays at home baking bread while his mother shops in the market place. When she returns, Paul shares her excitement about her purchases, admiring a small cornflower dish and some pansy and daisy roots that give them both joy in nature and beauty.

William soon returns home for Christmas after being gone for a few months and the family is "mad with excitement." Mrs. Morel is busy baking cakes, tarts, and pies, anxiously awaiting his arrival. The train is late, but William arrives with relatively lavish gifts for everyone and lots of fancy sweets. Neighbors come by to admire what a gentleman William had become. After he leaves, Mrs. Morel feels numb, "as if her feelings were paralyzed. She loved him passionately."


The oedipal relationship between Paul and his mother reveals itself in this chapter. Mrs. Morel's first name is Gertrude—the same name as Hamlet's mother. Shakespeare's Hamlet exhibits an Oedipus complex in his love for his mother. Paul and his mother are bound together by love and also their deeply shared hatred of his father. When Paul gets sick his mother is filled with love for him, and the boy delights in sleeping next to her and feeling her warmth against him, as sleep is best "when it is shared with a beloved." In Freud's analysis this would be symptomatic of the boy replacing his father and symbolically sharing the marital bed with his mother. Mrs. Morel's love for her son is also heightened by William's departure. Missing one son pushes her into the arms of the other. Paul and his mother also delight in sharing things. Paul bakes bread on Friday nights, taking his mother's place so that she can go to the market. Almost like two lovers they pore over her purchases when she returns, sharing their delight. Their intimacy is only threatened when William returns for Christmas and Mrs. Morel's passionate love for him returns. Upon William's departure, she is paralyzed for a time by the love she feels for her eldest son.

Alcoholism continues to rip the family apart and pit mother and children against the father. The author uses nature to reflect what is happening in the story. After the father rages in one of his drunken fits, the ash tree "shrieks and cries" as it is assaulted by the wind. As the father shouts in a booming voice, "the wind came through the tree fiercer and fiercer." When the wind stops, the father's shouting stops.

Fire is also used as a symbol of power and destructive force. Paul accidentally breaks his sister's doll, and his emotions upset him. He is filled with repulsion, and he decides to dispose of what is left by burning the doll. As the doll burns "he rejoiced in silence." Another time Paul returns home and sees his mother sitting alone with a candle burning, "the big fire glowed red." Mrs. Morel is waiting for her husband to appear, perhaps warning of the trouble ahead when Mr. Morel returns home drunk as usual. The potatoes left cooking for his dinner are "ruined and black."

The contrast between London and their humble town is foremost in Paul's mind as he waits for William's train thinking that "anything might happen if one came from London." London symbolizes success, and Paul wants others to know "they were expecting someone by the London train: it sounded so grand."

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