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 et 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.