The Effect Of Adults Behavior On Children Character: In What Maisie Knew By Henry James And Sons And Lovers By D. H. Lawrence

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

A representation of life, that’s what novel is. Depicting life as it is, novelists account to various techniques in order to represent some of the true colors of their own society, rather generation. Such novelists tend to depend on that inner psychological realm of the human mind, moreover, the human consciousness. As Bradbury states that the “interior monologue, stream of consciousness, aesthetic subjectivity, … and impressionistic nature of registered reality”, all make prior interest to the nineteenth century novelist as Henry James and D. H. Lawrence. (Bradbury 27)Henry James and D. H. Lawrence show in their works two different representation of that consciousness in a way that is related to children’s comprehension to the world above them. In that the former being influenced by the psychological insights of his brother, while the latter wrote in the time of Freudian psychology. This interpose of the individual world and the interior world is clearly shown in the novelists’ works in regard to depicting the world of a child character, that is in the novel of What Maisie Knew by Henry James, and the novel Sons and Lovers by Lawrence. The authors represented their works in harmony with the social, moral dilemma of their own time. (Bradbury)The topic of a child is sensitive to discuss, especially if this discussion involved the guardians of children; the parents themselves. James and Lawrence make use of the vigor impact of these guardians on the mental as well as the moral development of the children they guard.

The present paper is considering the way each of the authors tackled this theme, presenting two different child characters in an equally different circumstances, nevertheless, suffering the dilemma of being maltreated, though at times indirectly, by their parents. In his Notebooks James elaborated on how a child was to be divided by its own parents after their divorce, which was in result to the court’s decision at the time. Thus being thrown into a labyrinth of multiple households of parents and stepparents. This child is Maisie, a little girl of no wise age of her own, who is to be as a shuttlecock under the hands of those whom are supposedly entitled to take care of her very life. Seen from point of view of a child, What Maisie Knew presents adults in a strange manner regarding their characters, behaviors, and even speech at certain occasions. This buzzles the child, moreover it creates a vortex of unanswerable questions, that in fact should not be asked in her own age. For instance, Maisie is shown as a clown by her father and his male friends; they consider her as that figure which is to be laughed at. In fact, these adults even laugh harder when the child expresses her inability to understand their gestures.

Furthermore, it is the teasing part of pinching, pulling, and tickling that was most unpleasant to her. (Beidler)Her inability to understand that world of the adults sets her to lonesome of her own, accompanied only with strange shadows that dances on a sheet, found in her phantasmagoric little world. What enhances her case of estrangement and lonesome to the world of adults is her own mother Ida, who follows the idea that children should be seen but not be heard, thus preventing her own child from expressing herself, rather, keeping her thoughts concealed within herself and never to be exposed to the outer world. (Beidler)However, James introduces other characters that that alleviate the harshness of her parents’ treatments; seen in the figures of her governesses as well as her stepfather Sir. Claud. Yet, even with the coming of these characters James represents another image for the world of the adults, though not explicitly shown, but even those adults get Maisie in to a spiral of their own more complicated affairs. Maisie reaches the conclusion that it doesn’t matter as if to whom she belongs, as she no longer minds the continuous switches of her residence, since she now acknowledges that there is someone in each house to pay their special attention to her. She further concludes that the parents became to seem vague, but they are the governesses whom are to be trusted. (Smith)

Again, even those adults affect Maisie’s conception of things around her. Their suspicious acts of appearing in front of those who are not their partners. For instance, Miss Overmore follows Maisie to her father’s house, and Sir Claude appear in front of Miss Overmore in many times. This also exists in regard of her parents as well; in them having other possible lovers as the Captain and the Countess. Smith further explains that even these adults tend to exploit the stupidity of the child to their own benefits, just as in the case of Miss Overmore who considers the existence of the child besides herself as the best token of fortune that a mistress could have; she sees Maisie as the means that gets her within the legal domains of Sir. Claude. Thus, they make use of her for the most thing that she never understands, the adults’ world of suspicious affairs. Maisie seems to take these accounts into her considerations, hence she is no longer unaware of the importance of her role to those around her; resulting in an inevitable shift regarding her point of view. This is to happen according to Beidler after the fairy tale chapters end, which seems to be awaken, to some extent, by her trusted governess Mrs. Wix, who awakens within Maisie her moral sense. Furthermore, Maisie’s knowledge of the world around her is awakened. For instance, in an encounter with her father Beale, her knowing of her role shows him to be harmless, rather, defeated due to him acknowledging his guilt, and Maisie seems to know it, but she is devoid of the emotions of a daughter towards that sordid kind of a father. Neither her mother receives a different treatment than the father. In fact, because they themselves did not shower the girl with a fatherly, motherly love, not to say treatment.

However, that didn’t turn her into an abnormal child nor did it result in a complete loss of her moral sense. On the contrary it is the development of her personality as an accepted fellow of the judgement of the world that was the counter part of such impact. James describes the manner Maisie held when “[t]hey stood confronted, the step-parents, still under Maisie’s observation. That observation had never sunk so deep as at this particular moment” of her reaching the conclusion of leaving Sir Claud and leave the seen with her trusted governess, as Maisie now understand the effects of the adults’ world on her existence. (What Maisie Knew 468) On the other hand, Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers presents a somehow similar kind of instability of emotions on the part of a male character, Paul Morel, who is to be found in a context of family tension. The relationship between the parents, Gertrude and Mr. Morel is full of contrasts and constant conflicts. That’s why their happiness is to have a short-term and the relationship gets tense from early beginning. Such contrast is mainly due to the differences in their social classes. In a letter to Edward Garrnet, Lawrence explains that such union happened due to flings of attraction, rather it is the very touch of passion that gets them united. (Bradbury) However, such union is inevitable to doom and cause destruction, if not on the parents, it would be on the children, who in fact would suffer a great deal in their childhood as well as adulthood. Taking the elder boys for example, their encounters with their angry father and his maltreatment of their mother develop in them what is known as Oedipus complex, in which the son is to suffer from the mother fixation. (Sultan Shaikh)Paul’s Oedipus complex is influenced by the bad social environment at the time, and the effect of the cruel capitalist industrialism on civilization that caused misfortune for the workers causing them to live in complete poverty. Such conditions were reasons for Paul’s Oedipus complex to be formulated from the early stages of his life. Because in order to establish a healthy state of mind, the basis of such establishment need to be both a healthy social system and a healthy lifestyle, of which Paul’s environment never possessed. (Haiyan et al. )

At home the loud voices and the harsh words are considered the only source that is to alleviate the anger that these workers had in mind. Paul’s father was no exception, like the other miners he spent his time doing the gloomy work till he is exhausted. If life was to be seen from the eyes of such miners it would only be dirt and poverty, with complete lack of hope within its dirty layers. This formulated the essence of conflict between parents in the social background of what is to be called as family. Hence, the mother was completely disappointed in her husband which causes her to lavish all her love on her sons, especially Paul. (Sultan Shaikh) As if both mother and child found escape in each other, mainly due to the character of Paul himself, since from early stages of his life he was always with his mother’s side; for being shy child crying for reasons he does not know and in need of constant attention. Hoffman links between the sensitive nature as a child to Freudianism; in that he considered that it is due to the shy and sensitive features in Paul’s character which is kept in distance from the world around him, when he is to face such a world it would “struck him as being harsh and importunate”. Resulting in unnoticed difficulties in his affairs with the other sex; difficulties in understanding rather than experiencing, this is a counter response developed in his character.

As a result, his relations with the other sex lacked that sense of congeniality and thorough affection. (Hoffman 73-74)The mother and the son get used to each other to the extent that they almost become inseparable. They share almost every moment they encounter in their life, suffer the same pain and feel the same joy. In that Gertrude is seen to be unconsciously substituting Paul for her husband who reduces to an outsider in her life. Hence, the mother provokes psychological complications in her son that results in an abnormality in his behavior that would consequently lead him to an unhealthy growth emotionally and sexually, which is a very critical impact of the mother fixation. (Sultan Shaikh)When reached his adulthood, Paul’s attachment to his mother still has the same vigor if not more to the extent that he would reject relations with other women because he consistently compares them with his own mother. He began developing an image of a woman in his mind which is of his own mother. Thus, torn between multiple directions in his affairs with Miriam and Clara, he keeps swinging between his feelings of love, hate, longing, and commitment to that fixation all the time. “His relationship with both the women in his life proved utter disaster due to his unbreakable bond with his mother” (Sultan Shaikh 232). It is hence fair to say that if it wasn’t for the mother’s behavior around her child as well as the father’s behavior, Paul might get to live a life as normal as any boy of his age; to fall in love, to experience the meaning of really belonging to someone of his age.

This kind of recognition was far away from Paul’s reach, something he could only get hold of and realize only when almost everything was lost at the dying bed of his mother, at which Lawrence describes Paul that “he did not kiss her, for fear she should be cold and strange to him”, getting him to consider after wards that it is himself that he should live for, not the dying figure of his mother. He should have consumed his role as a son and not as a lover. (Sons and Lovers 451)Thus, both the son and the daughter were almost to lose themselves completely in the world of the adults, the only difference is that James’ Maisie did not lose her sense of morality, while Lawrence’s Paul was drawn into that circle of incestuous fantasization hence loss of his sexual identity. Both novels show different levels of how adult’s maltreatment of children can affect a child’s life willingly or unwillingly; it is after all in the hand of the adults to determine a child’s future.


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