Mind Over Matter: A Close Reading of Character Contrasts in The Rainbow
Early in The Rainbow, D. H. Lawrence introduces the farm laborers and an intellectual vicar through the eyes of Mrs. Brangwen, describing the characters’ distinct lifestyles. Lawrence establishes a contrast between the two types of men to illuminate the significance of knowledge over physical ability. To construct this hierarchy of values and virtues, Lawrence pays special attention to imagery and word choice. He accomplishes much through powerful turns of diction, which place the two sets of men (those defined by brute strength, and those defined by knowledge) in direct yet intriguing opposition.
The motif of blood compares farming and battle, painting the laborers as warriors whose physical strength exceeds their mental capacity. The text states that “they know in their blood” about the land and nature (Lawrence 8-9). Through the connection of the land to blood, Lawrence expresses the Brangwen men’s familiarity with farming, and presents them as more physically than mentally oriented. Their innate connection to blood emphasizes the men’s association to battle, thus demonstrating their inclination to more tangible possessions, as they value body over mind. Lawrence also explains that the Brangwen men’s faces are always “turned to the…blood” (12). This statement depicts the men in constant admiration of the land, without consideration for expanding their knowledge. With the men looking to blood, Lawrence illustrates the men’s attraction to battle and their role as a warrior whose only value lies in physical exertion. Their position indicates a strong embracement of the rural farming lifestyle that neglects the importance of mental development, which characterizes them with purely physical ability. The men also possess “blood-intimacy” as a form of life, which implies that they have an intimate understanding of and relationship with blood, presenting them with a sense of aggression important in battle (16). Since farming and labor distinguishes the Brangwen men from the more knowledgeable men of the world beyond the farm, the battle that blood represents displays their appreciation of the strength that battle requires. Through the motif of blood, Lawrence examines the relation between farming and battle, casting the Brangwen men as warriors with the sole ability of physical strength, to communicate their disinterest in expanding their knowledge and thus the inferiority of physical prowess without intellect.
The diction describing the Brangwen men emphasizes the physical aspect of their characters to establish them as lesser beings. Lawrence describes the men with their “senses full fed” (11-12). The diction of “senses” identifies the men with their bodies’ physical responses to the environment, and the state of “fully fed” illustrates their satisfaction with mere physical sensations. The statement further demonstrates the men’s disinterest in mental fulfillment and pursuit of knowledge, thus placing the significance of the men at the hands of their physical, rather than mental, abilities. The men’s lack of knowledge reflects an incomplete fulfillment of the complex human experience, which develops them as simple beings. Through expressing the simplicity of physical ability, Lawrence lowers its significance in relation to intellect. The Brangwen men are also “lacking outwardness,” instead living “faced inwards” (47, 28). The diction of “in” signifies a limited mindset of the men who exist within fixed boundaries and choose to remain stationary. Lacking the quality of continual development and evolution that makes people distinctly human, the characters are monotonous and unexciting. This dullness suggests that the men do not completely embody all the qualities of full human beings, and thus they are inferior to those who possess intellect. The narrator also describes the men as “dull and local” (50). The diction of “dull” depicts the Brangwen men as uninteresting, while “local” similarly characterizes them as old and unappealing. The men’s lack of complexity and appeal devalues them as human beings, as the text portrays their characters with little substance, affirming their position as lower and inferior. Lawrence’s diction characterizes the Brangwen men, having physical strength yet limited mental abilities, as simple and lacking the totality of human qualities and thus as lesser human beings. Therefore, Lawrence elevates the importance of intellect over physical ability.
Lawrence’s repetition of certain words establishes the relationship between the Brangwen men and the vicar to display the superiority of intellect over physical prowess. Lawrence repeats the word “craved” to portray the woman’s desire to obtain the knowledge that the vicar possesses (56). The repetition conveys the woman’s persistence to know about the vicar and also illustrates the intrigue of the vicar that inspires this craving, which the Brangwen men lack. The woman’s need to know about the vicar and his knowledge asserts the vicar’s position above the simple men due to his mental superiority. Comparing the physicalities of the vicar and the husband, Lawrence repeats the words “strong” and “little and frail” (58, 59). These descriptions display the power relation between the vicar and the man, illustrating the vicar’s power over the man despite his weak build. This reveals the superiority of intellect over physical abilities, as the text establishes the vicar as a figure of great knowledge without superior physicality. The repetition of “master” as the vicar’s title further demonstrates the relationship in status between the men (64). “Master” suggests control and dominance, which affirms the vicar’s power over the Brangwen men, who are below the master in status. In repeating this, Lawrence magnifies the difference in superiority between the vicar and the man, and between intellect and physical abilities. Through the repetition of particular words, Lawrence demonstrates the power of the vicar’s desirable knowledge over the laborers’ mere physical strength. Without intellect, the Brangwen men remain cemented in their positions below the vicar, emphasizing the importance of mind over body.
The motif of knowledge conveys the power of intellect over physical ability, reflecting the hierarchy that Lawrence creates. Describing the vicar’s intellect, Lawrence states that the vicar “passed beyond her knowledge” (52). “Beyond” indicates an expansive, even endless, range of knowledge that surpasses both the limits of the Brangwen men’s knowledge and the woman’s understanding. Not specifying the extent of the vicar’s intellect, the woman’s inability to comprehend adds an element of fascination of the unknown to the vicar’s character. This contrasts with the Brangwen men’s simplicity and dullness in a way that places the vicar above the men, establishing the vicar’s higher status. Lawrence further displays the hierarchical structure when presenting the way the woman “craved to know” and “to achieve this higher being” (55, 56). The woman compares knowing to achieving a higher being, which highlights the power of knowledge to elevate one’s status in the hierarchy. “Higher” raises the vicar above the other men due to the superiority of knowledge over physical strength, as the text portrays knowledge as desirable. Because the vicar possesses substantially more knowledge than the Brangwen men, he is superior in nature. Through the close relation of knowledge to position in the hierarchy, Lawrence proves the significance of knowledge over physical prowess. The text presents the motif of knowledge a final time as the answer to the woman’s questions about the vicar with “a question of knowledge” (66). Despite declaring knowledge as the answer, the woman’s decision lacks specificity, suggesting that she still does not fully understand the concept of the vicar’s knowledge. Designating this statement as the conclusion of the passage and of the woman’s inquiry, Lawrence links the characters and positions of all the men to knowledge, proving that the hierarchy hinges on this factor. Through the motif of knowledge, Lawrence constructs a hierarchy according to mental capacity, placing intellect above strength.
Lawrence establishes intellect as superior to physical ability through the contrast he creates between the two types of men. The motif of blood portrays the Brangwen men as laborers with only physical strength. Diction describing the men further develops them as lesser human beings as he illustrates their boring, simple nature. In addition, the repetition of words regarding the husband’s and the vicar’s relationship assert the significance of intellect over physical prowess, while the motif of knowledge reiterates the hierarchy. Through the two distinct types of characters, Lawrence reveals the limiting nature of simply physical ability, and contrastingly, the freedom and dominance that mental ability provides. He proves the superiority of knowledge to physical prowess to express the restricted capacity that physical ability grants in living a fulfilled human experience, and the need for individuals to pursue development beyond the body in the endeavor for a more meaningful existence.
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Early in The Rainbow, D. H. Lawrence introduces the farm laborers and an intellectual vicar through the eyes of Mrs. Brangwen, describing the characters’ distinct lifestyles. Lawrence establishes a contrast […]