Sons and Lovers revolves around the theme of love as presented in the novel is of two kinds; one is the love of mother for her son with its crippling effects on the emotional development of the son; the other is the love of the son going towards two women Clara and Miriam.; who represents two conflicting kinds of loving relationship. The Paul-Miriam love affair is one of the most consuming themes of the novel; it shapes, reshapes, destroys, rebuilds and destroys again the life of Paul Morel. Paul’s entanglement with Miriam is his first venture into the world outside the lukewarm familiar love with which his mother had wrapped him so far. The relationship grows steadily with intervals when Paul gets physically involved with another girl called Clara Dawes. Paul’s return to Miriam towards the end of the novel is to be separated from her again. The love affair ended almost tragically due to a number of psychological reasons.
Miriam Leivers is one of the foremost important characters in the novel. If Mrs. Morel is regarded as a real heroine of the novel, Miriam has to be regarded as one of the two subsidiary heroines, because she is one of the two women with whom the hero falls in love. She has a passionate intensity within her which becomes more and more bound with a religious fervor and mysticism as she matures. Miriam first meets Paul on his visit to the Willy farm. The growth of intimacy between Paul and Miriam is a slow but steady process. On the whole, Miriam seems to scorn the male sex, but when she became acquainted with Paul, she found a new specimen of that sex in this young man. She found that this young man could be gentle and could be sad; that he was clever and knew a lot. She finds that Paul loves nature in the same way as she loves it. Miriam almost passionately wants to be beside Paul when he first sees the white rose-bush in the moon-lit. For her, it is a completely mutual experience of a communion of the souls. She identifies with the flowers in a sensual erotic way and pours into them all her locked-up passion and intensity.
When Miriam realizes that she is beginning to love Paul, she prays that she may love him in the full measure of self-sacrifice of herself she can bring Paul deep happiness. She is completely unaware of Paul in the physical sense and desires only a spiritual communion of the souls with him. It is this ‘purity’ that presents any real development of their relationship. The presentation of her chastity seems to her a sacred duty and as a result, for a long time, she does not allow Paul even to kiss her. Thus while Paul’s physical love is daily becoming more and more urgent, she cannot respond to the desire.
In forward to Sons and Lovers, sent to Garnett in 1913, Lawrence put forward a theory about the relation between the sexes in which man is represented as the spokesman of the world and women as the embodiment of the flesh. Man must go out into the world but for inspiration and nourishment he must return constantly to the woman, ‘like bees in and out of the hive’. If, however, it is his mother who attempts to perform this role instead of a wife, the result is not the renewal of man but destruction. Lawrence points out here the destructive effect of mother-fixation partially due to this reason.
Miriam begins to possess Paul spiritually and this is where the dead lock with Mrs Morel begins. Mrs Morel’s antipathy to Miriam would appear to be based on her objection to suck soul possessiveness: “She is one of those who will want to suck a man’s soul out till he has none of his own left.” Mrs Morel also says about Miriam, “She will never let him become a man; she never will.” Paul’s intense regard for his mother is itself a factor that prevents him from establishing a fruitful relationship with other women.
But the most serious stumbling-block in Paul’s love affair with Miriam is Miriam herself. When, in chapter 8, they stay at the cottage together, she surrenders to him, as if in sacrifice. When Paul latter tells Miriam that their relationship must end, she realizes how much she hates him. She is angry that her sacrifice has been in vain.
Paul’s relationship with Clara Dawes is based on pure sensuality. Clara is the opposite of Miriam. She wants sensual gratification. For Paul also, this is a physical outlet of his stopped-up emotion. If Miriam is also, Clara is all body. As both of them do not have both, they both fail.
When Miriam and Paul meet at the end of the novel, Miriam feels that they are still united through their communal souls. She is moved with pity with Paul. For her, it is bitter-sweet anguish of her self-sacrifice. For Paul, the agony is that knowing about their relationship which has failed them again. Each is looking for something, the other cannot. Sons and Lovers ends with the failure of the love relationship entangling Paul, Miriam, and Clara.