As a twentieth century novelist, essayist, and poet, David Herbert Lawrence
brought the subjects of sex, psychology, and religion to the forefront of
literature. One of the most widely read novels of the twentieth century, Sons
and Lovers, which Lawrence wrote in 1913, produces a sense of Bildungsroman1,
where the novelist re-creates his own personal experiences through the
protagonist in (Niven 115). Lawrence uses Paul Morel, the protagonist in Sons
and Lovers, for this form of fiction. With his mother of critical importance,
Lawrence uses Freuds Oedipus complex, creating many analyses for critics.
Alfred Booth Kuttner states the Oedipus complex as: “the struggle of a man to
emancipate himself from his maternal allegiance and to transfer his affections
to a woman who stands outside the family circle” (277). Pauls compromising
situations with Miram Leivers and Clara Dawes, as well as the death of his
mother, display the Oedipus complex throughout Sons and Lovers. At an adolescent
age, Pauls oedipal love towards his mother is compromised by a young lady
named Miram Leivers. This profound situation puts Paul to the emotional test of
Oedipal versus physical love. As Kuttner goes on to state: “Pauls
admiration for his mother know no bounds; her presence is always absorbing.
Often at the sight of her, his heart contracts with love” (278).
Pauls maternal relationship defines the Oedipus complex. Miram pulls Paul
away from his mother, while Pauls mother, Gertrude, sees Miram as a threat to
her son. Paul, even though Miram is around, still will not commit totally to her
because of the strong ties between mother and son. Paul says to his mother,
“Ill never marry while Ive got you I wont…” (Lawrence 240).
Lawrence wrote frequently of Pauls love belonging to his mother and only his
mother (212). Though Miram Leivers could not truly find Pauls heart, another
woman named Clara Dawes provides more stress on Pauls maternal relationship.
Although Paul loved Clara, he still kept his attraction toward his mother.
“Everything he does is for her, the flowers he picks as well as the prizes he
wins at school. His mother is his intimate and his confidant” (Kuttner 278).
Clara tried desperately to win Paul over, but her social sophistication was too
much for him. Paul tells his mother: “I dont want to belong to the
well-to-do middle class. I like my common people the best. I belong to the
common people” (Lawrence 250). Clara shows frustration with Paul because of
his maternal devotion. Again Lawrence displays the Oedipus complex through Paul
to his mother, “And I shall never meet the right woman as long as you live”
(341). Pauls Oedipal love would be tested once more by him dealing with the
death of his mother. Paul, though, was tough enough in handling this dilemma.
R.P. Draper recognizes the loss of Pauls mother as: Their special, private,
intimate grief over the impossible dream, and the magnificence of the woman, and
the devotional quality of Pauls love, render the deathbed scenes poignant and
innocent (292). The verification of Kuttners statement is seen as Lawrence
has Paul react to her death in this manner: “my love my love oh, my
love! My love oh, my love!” (384). Lawrence also writes of Pauls
continuing love for his mother: “Looking at her, he felt he could never, never
let her go. No!” (385). Kuttner Implies: “But death has not freed Paul from
his mother. It has completed his allegiance to her. For death has merely removed
the last earthly obstacle to their ideal union” (280). The love that Paul
feels towards his mother would never die. He loves her just as much when she
died as he did when she was still alive. Paul continues life having a maternal
devotion that no other woman would ever be able to fill. Throughout the novel,
Paul is seen as one who lives for his mother. Mark Spilka explains: “For if
Paul has failed in his three loves, he has drawn from them the necessary
strength to live” (293). Sons and Lovers was written with Lawrence almost
defining the Oedipus complex through Paul. With this in mind, Kuttner gives this
insight about the novel: Sons and Lovers possesses this double quality to a high
degree. It ranks high, very high as a piece of literature and at the same time
embodies a theory which it illustrates and exemplifies with a completeness that
is nothing less than astonishing (277). Psychologists of today still accept the
Oedipus complex as a viable explanation for the love and fascination that male
children display towards their mothers. Lawrence successfully created an
educational novel as well as an easily readable and interesting novel. Literary
critics tend to speculate that Sons and Lovers was written by Lawrence as
somewhat of an autobiography centering Pauls life around his own. Whether or
not this is true will never be determined, though it will continue to remain a
favorite topic for critical analysis for years to come.
Draper, R.P. “D.H. Lawrence on Mother Love.” Essays in Criticism 8
(1958): 285-289. Rpt. In TCLC. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 16. Detroit: Gale, 1985.
293-294. :Kuttner, Aldred Booth. “Sons and Lovers: A Freudian
Appreciation.” The Psychoanalytic Review. 3 (1916): 295-317. Rpt. In TCLC, Ed.
Dennis Poupard. Vol. 16. Detroit: Gale, 1985. 277-282. :Lawrence, D.H. Sons and
Lovers. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996. :Niven, Alastair. “D.H.
Lawrence.” British Writers. Vol. 7. 1984. 87-126. :Spilka, Mark. The Love
Ethic of D.H. Lawrence. (1955): 244. Rpt. In TCLC. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 16.
Detroit: Gale, 1985.