Sons and Lovers | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Sons and Lovers | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

Sons and Lovers follows two generations of the Morel family as they struggle to find their passions amid suffocating relationships, social expectations, and sexual awakenings. The novel opens in the coal-mining town of Bestwood, England, in the late 1800s. Mrs. Morel is in an unhappy marriage with her alcoholic, coal-miner husband and is unhappily pregnant with her third child, a son she will name Paul. Mrs. Morel adores her eldest son, William, and pours onto him all the lost affection for her husband. The two are inseparable until William decides to leave home for London. His new job brings more money in to the family, but Mrs. Morel misses him desperately. She envies the young women William dates and treats his fiancée, Lily, cruelly when she visits. When William falls ill and eventually dies, Mrs. Morel falls into a deep depression. Paul falls ill a few months later and almost dies, but Mrs. Morel rouses herself to nurse him back to health. She now devotes her life entirely to Paul, and, unlike William, Paul returns his mother's affection in equal measure.

Paul adores his mother and, in some sense, treats her like a lover. The two travel together to Nottingham when Paul receives a job offer, as if they are dating. Although Paul knows the family needs his money, he longs for nothing more than to buy a little cottage in which he and his mother can grow old together.

Part 2

After being forced to take time off from his job to recuperate from his illness, Paul convalesces at home, frequently visiting a nearby farm for fresh air. There, he meets the farmer's daughter, a serious, thoughtful girl named Miriam. Paul and Miriam bond over their shared love of literature and art, and they seem destined for romance. Paul wants to engage in a sexual relationship with Miriam, but she's too timid. Eventually, she gives in to his advances. Miriam expects that after they sleep together they will become engaged and marry. However, Paul grows bored of their relationship, frustrated that Miriam can never just give in to physical passion. He breaks things off with her, claiming they can never be more than friends.

Paul realizes he will never love another woman as much and in the same way as he loves his mother, but he launches into a passionate affair with Miriam's married friend, Clara, a sexually liberated suffragette. Despite their physical connection, Paul doesn't feel fulfilled. Clara's estranged husband, Baxter Dawes, attacks Paul twice in a jealous rage and ends up getting himself fired from the factory where he and Paul work. Meanwhile, Mrs. Morel ages, much to Paul's displeasure. He feels angry that his mother has grown frail and is no longer young and beautiful. They take a vacation together, and Paul snaps in frustration when she cannot climb a hill. Shortly after, he learns his mother has a tumor and will soon die. He also learns that Clara's husband, Dawes, is being treated for illness by the same doctor. When Clara learns Dawes is sick, she leaves Paul and returns to Dawes to nurse him back to health.

Without a lover to distract him, Paul dedicates himself to caring for his ailing mother, filled with a mixture of passionate love for her and growing disgust as she wastes away. Once Paul realizes that his relationship with his mother is holding him back from finding his true passion, he cannot wait for her to die. Seeing her suffering, Paul and Annie, his sister, crush up her morphine pills and stir them into a glass of milk. They give her the overdose of medicine and wait for her to die. Paul visits Miriam and, out of loneliness, contemplates marrying her but ultimately decides not to. Miriam vows to wait for Paul until he's ready to commit to her. Paul returns home filled with emotion about his relationship with his mother, contemplating suicide; in the end he decides to start a new life without either woman.

Sons and Lovers Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Mr. and Mrs. Morel weather a violent, angry marriage.

Rising Action

2 William dies, and Mrs. Morel showers all her love on Paul.

3 Paul is torn between his love for his mother and for Miriam.

4 Paul loves Miriam and Clara for different reasons.

5 After sleeping with both women, Paul chooses Clara.

6 Paul realizes he will not love well while his mother lives.


7 Paul gives his ill mother an overdose of morphine.

Falling Action

8 Baxter and Clara move away, leaving Paul alone.


9 After a visit with Miriam, Paul decides to live in the city.

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