Of all the novel's characters, Ursula is the one who shows the most growth. At the beginning of the story, Ursula is introverted and stuck inside her head, as she is determined to understand life before making any decisive moves. She enters into a relationship with Rupert Birkin and engages in numerous passionate debates with him about the nature of life and relationships. Originally opposed to marriage, Ursula finally marries Rupert Birkin. She starts standing up to men such as her father and Gerald Crich when they do things that strike her as wrong. Following Diana Crich's death, Ursula makes peace with the idea of her own death. In Tyrol Ursula lets go of the past that defined her as well as any shame attached to her sensuality. At the novel's end, she is still debating ideas with Rupert, showing marriage has not made Ursula complacent nor stunted her drive to understand life.
Gerald Crich's accidental killing of his brother when they were boys sets him apart from others. He avoids introspection, throwing his energy into doing. Rupert Birkin is his only friend, and Gerald suppresses his homosexual desire for Rupert. When his father falls ill, Gerald takes over the mining operation, reforming it to standards of efficiency. It becomes such an efficient operation Gerald finds he is now useless and suffers an identity crisis. He turns to his relationship with Gudrun Brangwen as a remedy for this, but their passion for each other is marked by power struggles that culminate in a fight to the death. At his urging, Gudrun, Ursula, and Rupert join him on holiday in the Austrian mountains. Once Ursula and Rupert depart, Gerald becomes tortured by a sense he is imprisoned by the increasingly aloof Gudrun. The solution, he decides, is to kill her. Surprising Gudrun and Herr Loerke as they picnic in the snowy wilderness, Gerald strangles Gudrun. Moments before killing her, he becomes disgusted he cares enough to kill her, and he wanders off into the mountains to his own death.
When the novel opens, Gudrun Brangwen has just returned to her hometown after spending time living in London as an artist. She is immediately drawn to Gerald Crich and feels they share some sort of destiny. When she becomes the governess of Winifred Crich, her relationship with Gerald accelerates. The relationship's sexual passion gives way to a pure power struggle and a fight to the death Gudrun is certain she will win. In Tyrol Gudrun becomes obsessed with reaching the distant snowy mountains, feeling it will fulfill her. She turns away from Gerald and begins a passionate intellectual relationship with the nihilistic artist Herr Loerke. She almost dies at Gerald's hands but is saved by a wave of apathy that overcomes him. Learning he is dead, she is unable to feel any emotion, remaining cold. She moves to Dresden with Herr Loerke.
Hermione attempts to distract herself from her inner emptiness by throwing herself into the life of the intellect and by constantly hosting visitors at her estate, Breadalby. She has a will that refuses to be thwarted and uses it to control the reluctant Rupert Birkin. When Rupert challenges Hermione by speaking of knowledge that is beyond the intellect, Hermione experiences a feeling of her own dissolution and enters into a trance controlled by her subconscious. In this state she attempts to murder Rupert by hitting him in the head with a paperweight. Afterward, she convinces herself she has done nothing wrong. She is jealous of Rupert's developing relationship with Ursula Brangwen. Unable to stop it, she moves away to Italy.
Throughout the novel, Rupert Birkin oscillates between a loathing of humanity and himself, and the desire to save humanity by finding new values to replace the old ones that no longer work. It takes Rupert half the novel to shake off the sick relationship he has with Hermione Roddice. Trying to realize a new type of marriage that allows both parties to retain their individuality, he marries Ursula Brangwen and convinces her they should quit their jobs and be homeless. Rupert envisions a complete life consisting not just of a perfect union with a woman, but also a perfect union with a man. His attempts to turn his friendship with Gerald Crich, for whom he has a suppressed love, into this kind of bond do not succeed. Rupert Birkin believes there is another kind of knowledge, beyond the mind and the ego, that can be reached through a relationship. He also believes the white races are headed toward a process of destruction by ice and Gerald Crich is fated for such destruction. After Gerald's death, Rupert resolves to limit his intellectual struggle to seeking personal happiness rather than trying to fix the world's problems. However, he still retains the belief he can attain a perfect union with a man to complement his marriage to Ursula, despite this failing with Gerald.