Sons and Lovers Summary

D. H. Lawrence

Sons and Lovers

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Sons and Lovers Summary

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D.H. Lawrence is considered one of the greatest English writers of modernity. His novel Sons and Lovers (1913) was derided upon publication, but today is often considered his best work. Gertrude Morel, a young woman full of life and ambition, struggles to self-actualize in the early twentieth-century society of Britain, which squelches discourse between women. Morel reacts by becoming a highly perceptive wallflower, pretending to enjoy a trivial social existence in order to observe guests at parties. When Morel commits to a relationship, she learns about the many pitfalls and limitations of claiming and becoming accountable to a life path. She ages and has several sons who, in their relationships with her, both repeat and create their own problematic patterns.

The novel begins by introducing Morel, who begins as the unmarried Gertrude Coppard. At a dance on Christmas, she meets Walter Morel and begins a romance that is driven mainly by physical passion. Not long after, she marries him and begins to question her decision as she feels the limiting impact of his small salary, about which he omitted the truth, on her own life’s possibilities. They begin to quarrel and grow apart; Walter opts to go straight to the bar after each workday. In response, Morel turns to her sons, namely, William, the eldest, thinking of him as a model that she can enrich to play out her own destroyed ambitions.

As a young boy, William is unhealthily attached to Morel, unable to enjoy life outside the house without her accompanying him. As he becomes a young man, he protects her from his father’s domestic abuse. When he comes of age, he leaves Nottinghamshire to go to work in London, rising into the middle class. He becomes engaged but cannot stand the shallowness of his fiancée. He becomes ill and dies early; devastated, Morel turns to her second son, Paul, who is going through a bout of pneumonia

Paul is different from William in that he has a bipolar relationship with his mother. Where William was only loving and attached, Paul is occasionally repelled by the prospect of living with his mother forever. He recognizes that he will probably always be, in some ways, the second choice for his mother as she tries to reconstruct his older brother. He looks back on William’s life and recognizes the importance of venturing out on his own to find love in the form of a partner. He slowly falls in love with Miriam, a farmer’s daughter whom he meets at church. They go on long walks and have educated debates about books. Yet, Paul begins to resist the idea of a future with Miriam, still dependent on his mother.

One day, he goes to Miriam’s family farm, where he encounters a young woman, Clara Dawes. Clara has feminist inclinations and has recently chosen to leave her husband, Baxter. Paul goads Miriam into a physical relationship she is ambivalent about, but they both find it unfulfilling. He breaks up with her and gets closer to Clara, who seems to be more physically passionate. Proving too much for Clara, he returns again to Morel. However, Morel soon dies, leaving him alone in the world. In reaction, Paul wanders Britain out of control, becoming a depressed alcoholic and having sex with women he never cares about. Miriam reaches out and asks him to get married, but he declines.

As Paul sinks deeper into his depression, he thinks about killing himself in hope that he would rejoin his mother. Instead, he resolves to continue on and try to build a life for himself. At the end of the novel, his fate is left open. Sons and Lovers thus poses a final question about whether it is possible to live a life or build an identity for oneself without relying on formative models between which one transfers the abstract traits he or she wants. It suggests that humans, especially males, are naturally destructive in their tendency to become helpless and unhappy when they form unrealistic objects of desire.