Sons and Lovers from Psychoanalytic and Feminist Points of View
Sons and Lovers is one of the best-known works of the most influential, yet controversial writer of the Modern tradition of English literature, D. H. Lawrence. Published in 1913, the novel was banned for a number of years because of the complex and complicated issues portrayed in it. I will firstly analyze it from a psychoanalytic point of view.
Psychoanalytic criticism implements the methods of ‘reading’ employed by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century. He argues that literary texts, like dreams, express “the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author, that a literary work is a manifestation of the author’s own neuroses.” (Delahoyde, web) One may psychoanalyze a particular character within a literary work as if it is a real person, discussing the unconscious forces that makes it act the way it does, but it is usually assumed that all such characters are projections of the author’s psyche. We can also analyze an author as if he were a patient.
One of Freud’s most famous theories is the Oedipus complex, which deals with the unconscious wish of a child to posses the mother and take the father’s place. The beginning of the Oedipus complex appearing in William and Paul is exemplified in the relationship between the parents. The boys see that Walter Morel often comes home drunk after squandering the family’s income. All of this causes the boys to hate their father and be compassionate and protective towards their poor mother. Mrs. Morel takes pride in her sons. She wants to see her life’s fulfilment in them: “Now she had two sons in the world. She could think of two places, great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man into each of them, that these men would work out what she wanted: they were derived from her they were of her and their works also would be hers.” (Lawrence, 101) At the beginning William, as the oldest son, is the mother’s favorite. He does everything he can to please her. After William dies, Paul takes his place as his mother’s favorite. The relations between mother and child are special.
Paul’s admiration for his mother knows no boundaries, her presence is always absorbing. Frequently, when he sees his mother, “his heart contracted with love.” (Lawrence, 92) 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 close friend, he has no other intimate. When Morel, the father, is at the hospital after an accident in the mine, Paul happily plays the role of the husband, “I’m the man in the house now.” (Lawrence, 88)
When his sister Annie marries he tries to console his mother saying : “But I shan’t marry, mother. Shall live with you, and we’ll have a servant.” (Lawrence, 245) If she hesitates then he proceeds to figure it out. “I’ll give you till seventy-five. There you are, I’m fat and forty-four. Then I’ll marry a staid body (…) And we’ll have a pretty house, you and me, and a servant, and it’ll be just all right.” (Lawrence, 246) His plans for the future have not changed, at twenty-two he thinks as he thought at fourteen, like a child that goes on living a fairytale.
In fact, according to Freud, “the evolution of the mature love instinct begins as soon as the child has sufficiently developed a sense of the otherness of its surroundings to single out its mother as the object of its affections. At first this is entirely instinctive and unconscious and comes as the natural result of the child’s dependence upon its mother for food, warmth and comfort.” (Bloom, 204) The mother is the overpowering presence of those earliest days of childhood and the source from which all good things come.
The novel also deals with Feminism. Feminist critics of the feminist movement promoted a struggle against the male-dominated society which mistreats women. The suffragette movement of the early 19th century made heard the feminist voices of Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir who fought against the social degradation of females by the domineering males. “In The second sex French Simone de Beauvoir focuses on how the society as a whole creates females.” (Mahbuba, web)
Society does not provide equal rights for men and women. There is a gender unfairness in the world and Mrs. Morel becomes a victim of the patriarchal society which promotes the man-centered family. Lawrence also believed in male supremacy. Simone de Beauvoir terms this attitude “bourgeois conception”. Turning to women as mothers, Beauvoir examines that women always “takes the title of their husbands”. (Mahbuba, web). The name of Gertrude Morel appears only twice in this novel and she is always called Mrs. Morel in rest. She also states that Lawrence rediscovers this conception that woman should subordinate her whole existence to that of her man. Her children become somehow tools for making her dreams come true. She is teaching them to change their social position. She encourages Paul’s art, his education and social advancement. (Monjur, web)
Clara can be seen at a first sight as a portrait of the modern early 20th century woman. She combines a number of significant characteristics: she is intensely attractive, fiercely independent, considering herself as a woman apart from her class, and a woman of passion. Hower, the roles of the wife and the mother have been invested with some power or influence as against the role of the feminists. “Women like Clara cannot gain a respectable social identity outside of the institution of marriage. Clara comes across merely as an instrument, a vehicle for Paul’s passion. She is a caricature of the ‘new,’ liberated woman.” (Portrayal of Women, web)
In conclusion, Sons and Lovers is a complex novel which can be analyzed from multiple points of view, even if I analyzed it only through psychoanalytic and feminist theories.
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