Lawrence’s Treatment of Modern Psychology in Sons and Lovers

D. H. Lawrence is more prone to dealing with human psychology, unlike other modern novelists. In fact, it was Lawrence along with Virginia Wolf, who started describing the innermost workings of the human mind through a method which later on came to be known as the “stream of consciousness method.” One of the most important fact about Lawrence as a novelist is that he led the revolt against reason and pointed his belief in the physical-mental energy of the individual. Organized society was an anathema to him, as he turned more and more to the private psychological problem of men and women in his novels. The philosophy of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche undoubtedly contributed to his development. These dynamic thinkers strengthened his belief in vitalism and individualism. It is probable that through his German wife Frieda, Lawrence was introduced to the romantic metaphysic of Otto-Weininger whose sex and character is a key book to the thinking of the first decade of the 20th century. Freud seems to be another influence on Lawrence in fashioning his attitude towards sex. The so-called Oedipus complex that colors Sons and Lovers seems to be derived from Freud’s ideas. But it should be remembered that when Sons and Lovers was published (1913), Freud was still working in Germany on Psycho-analysis. Much has been said of the relationship of this novel to Freud. Freud’s account of mother-fixation relates quite closely to Lawrence’s treatment of Gertrude-Paul relationship described in the novel.It is surprising to see how accurately the Freudian psychology is Para phrasal in Lawrence’s works and that also within the same decade. The center of Freudian Psycho-analysis is the supremacy of sex. Sex is the motivating factor behind all human actions. Freud divided psyche on mind into three strata- Id, Ego and Super-ego on the conscious-subconscious, and unconscious. Although sex is a healthy instinct society and moral regulations force the individual to suppress this instinct.

Lawrence became obsessed with the theme in this book; He wanted to liberate the suppressed instinct from the undue control of the intellect. Lady Chatterley’s Lover shows the extreme to which he could go in his treatment of sex, in order to advocate a complete emancipation of intellect and false morality.

Sexuality is one of the leading themes in Sons and Lovers. There are a large number of passages of reflection and meditation, most of them dealing with the psychology of sex. As for technique is employed of several points in the story to reveal the workings of the mind of the principal characters, Lawrence’s object was to reveal the psychology which manifests itself in every human relationship – the relationship of men and women, of parents and children. Oedipus complex is a phrase in Freudian psychology which refers to the natural tendency on the part of a mother to love her son more than she loves her daughter. From the son’s side, the son loves his mother more than he loves his father. The son might even hate the father as he might consider him as a rival in his mother’s love. This Oedipus instinct in the child is later on sublimated as he grows up into manhood. The boy goes out in the world, faces other women and gradually his mother influences on him. This is the normal course but sometimes, as in the case of Paul in Sons and Lovers, the “mother-fixation” remains even after he has become adult and this has disastrous consequences on his emotional and sexual life.

Lawrence develops this oedipal affinity between Paul and his mother from the very outset; it is an essential component of Paul’s character. After William’s death, Paul is more than ever implicated in a close relationship with his mother. In his affair with Miriam, Paul is aware of his mother’s influence in the relationship. He cannot bear the ” religious mystic” in Miriam; yet when he is with her, he cannot help being involved in the closeness she demands. Paul’s relationship with Miriam is tortured and unsatisfactory. They have so much in common, yet she cannot give to him what he really needs. She cannot rise to meet the male in him. Paul, under his mother’s influence, has come to need a woman who can stand up to him, question him and disagrees with him. There is always at the back of Paul’s conscience the spirit of his mother and her domination to him.

In the Fantasia of Unconscious, Lawrence describes the disastrous effect of excessive mother-love. Middleton Murry used this as the basis of his treatment of Lawrence’s life in Sons and Lovers:“That is Lawrence’s history of his own life. It is the history of Sons and Lovers told again, eight years later with the added insight and debauchment that comes of maturity.”Whatever may be the autobiographical link, Lawrence’s treatment of the mother-domination is based on some psychological basis. Gertrude Morel hates her husband and redirects her love towards her son Paul. This established between the mother and the child ‘the bond of adult love’ which has no physical outlet because incest is unlikely. She becomes a ‘wife-substitute’ for the son and through subtle and unconscious domination; she makes him serve her need and refuses him the right to an independent life of his own.

Sons and Lovers is then a deeply psychological novel. The deep psychological instinct and thought-process are infinitely interesting, although from a scientific point of view they remain a mystery.


Founder & CEO, Hamandista Academy  

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