Sons and Lovers | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Sons and Lovers | Part 2, Chapter 15 : Derelict | Summary



Clara and Dawes move to Sheffield together and are gone from Paul's life. He goes to live in Nottingham, and his father lives with a family in Bestwood because "there was scarcely any bond between father and son." Paul's life is at a standstill, and he can no longer paint, filling his empty hours drinking in bars. He continues to work at the factory, finding peace in "the thick darkness at night," haunted by the loss of his mother and the gnawing realization that he is destroying himself. He tells himself that he needs to "keep alive for her sake," his soul swinging back and forth between thoughts of life and death. He is stifled with nowhere to go.

Paul thinks then of Miriam, and he goes to the Unitarian Church one Sunday and runs into her. He asks her to supper, and Miriam tells him that she will be teaching at the farming college in Broughton. As they sit by a fire, Miriam tells him she thinks they should marry because she can prevent him from just wasting away. Paul responds that he doesn't think marriage "would be much good." Miriam thinks about holding him and sacrificing herself to him but she "dared not." Paul sees her eyes and pities her, taking her hands and asking if she will have him. She knows she belongs to him, but she does not want this to be her decision alone. She asks him if this is what he wants, and he replies, saying "not much." This is the end for them because he does not want her to sacrifice her life, and he does "not hope to give life to her by denying his own."

Miriam realizes that he is unstable and will "destroy himself like a perverse child" and decides to leave. She touches some flowers on the table, freesia and scarlet anemones. Paul gives them to her, and as he talks she feels dead. She knows he will waste his life without her. When Paul sees her go he feels "the last hold for him had gone." He looks at the country around him and the stars above, and he feels the "terror of the immense night" and that there is "no time, only space." Paul calls out "Mother," as "she was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this." He wants "her to touch him, have him alongside with her." He feels overwhelmed by the nothingness around him "but no, he would not give in."

Paul turns away and walks toward the city's light, away from darkness and his mother, choosing instead the "faintly humming, glowing town."


Paul is caught between the desire to follow his mother in death and the will to survive. The loss of his mother is devastating; he is allowing it to consume him and potentially destroy his life. Once again he is caught in a struggle between clinging to his mother and breaking away from her.

Paul reaches out to Miriam one last time but realizes that he does not want to marry her and deny his own life in order to fulfill hers. Miriam sees that she can never have Paul because he still belongs to his mother. Miriam finds comfort in the flowers Paul has on his table. She touches them, and Paul gives them to her to take home. Miriam feels like she is dead, and the flowers can be seen as ones at a funeral.

After Miriam leaves Paul looks into the night sky and calls out "Mother," which can be interpreted as a call for help or a cry of anguish. Either way, he can no longer run to her for solace, and she can no longer touch him—or harm him—with her smothering love. For the first time he has to find the strength to stand alone and make his own choices in life. His mother was the one thing in his life he could count on, and now she is gone.

As Paul walks toward the city he is walking away from his past and the dysfunctional relationship he had with his mother. The oedipal relationship has held him back and delayed his sexual maturity and his ability to really grow up. He could never truly love another because of his profound love for his mother. As he walks toward the lights of the city, he is free to love and free of his mother's grasp. He chooses life and light over death and darkness.

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