Childhood Effects on Society in Sons and Lovers
When one follows the precedent set by those around them, it debilitates mindful independence. During the Victorian Era, citizens followed a precise social order to differentiate classes based on income, gender, religion, or race, restricting one’s individual ideas when differing with society’s. This discrimination highlighted women inequality, as female submission alongside male dominance reigned as an order, resulting in women feeling trapped. Such ideas from society transfer through each generation, prolonging the abuse. Among the trying time for justice, notable author, David Herbert Lawrence, wrote several literary works connecting with social struggles. Lawrence often wrote bildungsromans, autobiographical novels about the early years of a character’s life, while incorporating social themes such as gender.
Within the literary work of Sons and Lovers, written in 1913 England, Lawrence achieves this characterization through inclusion of a family’s failing mother and father, the Morels, while the children, specifically Paul, grow up enduring the repercussions of childhood. Perceiving his father’s treatment of his mother as just, this discrimination foreshadows Paul’s internal conflicts in his love life, as he inherits society’s gender inequality. As Ting Bo relays, women in the Victorian Era were exponentially submissive, shown through the mother’s obedience to Mr. Morel (3). In Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Paul’s upbringing drives the ultimate theme of gender discrimination in accordance with his actions mirroring societal expectations.
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To begin, childhood influences one’s impressionable morals, beliefs, and future actions that reflect those values. Growing up in a house showcased around a misogynistic, unhappy marriage, Paul bears the psychological effects of such. Specifically, a male figure’s influence, as in Mr. Morel, sets the precedent for what one should model after, including his demeaning anger towards his wife. Mr. Morel perfects the societal image of male dominance, as that stands as his goal throughout the course of their marriage. For example, Mr. Morel further asserts his power over his subordinate wife as he spits, “‘Why, nobody but a nasty little bitch like ‘ud ‘ave such a thought’” (Lawrence 24). Aggressively chastising his wife instills fear within her, serving towards Mr. Morel’s goal to exert his dominance. Fear causes humans to feel timid, which raises Mr. Morel’s confidence in being able to control someone weaker than him, serving as an example of acceptable social standards.
Moreover, Helen Baron asserts that in his anger that shadows his insatiable desire for dominance, his alcoholism hinders his judgment, furthering issues with his wife and children (2). Through his dominance driven by society and alcohol, Mr. Morel also demands household duties from Mrs. Morel, such as cooking and cleaning, in an effort to subdue her. In addition to the male figure’s dominance, the inferiority of the mother also influences one’s childhood perspective on what Paul should expect from women in the future. For example, Mrs. Morel strays from challenging her husband, as she “…ceased to fret for his love…” due to her fear of the violent and unpredictable effects of overstepping social boundaries (Lawrence 18). Due to male intimidation, the fear of men instills timidness within women, furthering their perception as weak and fragile. Through personal experiences, women often adapt to social standards, allowing the oppression to occur.
Mrs. Morel contributes to this notion, as her husband uses his dominant power force as a drunk who provides little stability, showing how accustomed she was as an oppressed wife (Bo 2). On the other hand, irony resides in the fact that as an educated, middle class woman, Mrs. Morel still rates as inferior and unsuccessful in comparison to her lower class, alcoholic husband. In this irony, Mrs. Morel symbolizes all women, dealing with a man’s unhealthy antics without receiving credit due to the foundation of discrimination as she does with his overall aggression and alcoholism. Additionally, the male and female roles in Paul’s household and the relationships within them influence his adulthood. Specifically, Paul and Mrs. Morel adorn a close and loyal relationship, in which Paul respects and prioritizes her.
This comes with caveats, however their closeness allows for Mrs. Morel’s control over Paul, instilling his insistent need of her approval for the rest of his life. For example, Paul struggles to mature independently and feels content solely with his mother as he relays, “‘I’ll never marry while I’ve got you, I won’t’” (Lawrence 244). Through a constant state of peace in being dependent, Paul’s relationship with his mother emphasizes the drastic effects of childhood. Mrs. Morel’s inner self conjoins in an undefined junction with Paul’s conscience rather than from an outside judgment (Baron 1). Ultimately, the precedent set by Mr. and Mrs. Morel psychologically effects Paul during his adulthood.
As an adult, Paul delves into romance, where his perception of women reflects that of his parents and society. The main woman that Paul focuses on is Miriam, viewing her as beautiful and exquisite only until his mother finds her flaws unmanageable. His mother’s opinion overshadows his own and then “[h]e hated her, for she seemed in some way to make him despise himself” (Lawrence 150). From this point forward, he over-analyzes Miriam’s actions and becomes judgmental and spiteful, mirroring Mr. Morel and society as a whole. In this instance, Mrs. Morel symbolizes society, as society criticizes women to further the perception of them as negative, just as Paul now perceives Miriam due to his mother. Paul criticizes her personality as he “…more or less condescended [Miriam] because she seemed so humble” (Lawrence 152). Constantly critiquing Miriam when he once admires her beauty mirrors society’s treatment of women, instilling a certain perception of them, just as Paul furthers the idea to readers that Miriam lacks strength and complexity (Martz 73). Contrasting with Paul’s perception of Miriam, she ultimately provides many benefits to Paul. Specifically, Miriam symbolizes maturity and independence, which Paul strives for, as he does Miriam, while struggling between dependence or romance. Miriam offers independence and a life separate from his family, which psychologically serves Paul best, yet he internally challenges all of his options. On the other hand, Paul perceives all women differently, as he showcases through his view of Mrs. Morel.
In contrast to Paul’s negative opinion of Miriam, Mrs. Morel inherits respect and admiration from Paul. While readers view her as a victim of discrimination, Mrs. Morel adorns negative attributes that deter Paul’s internal growth due to her negative attributes. Specifically, Paul’s mother utilizes manipulative tactics as a means to actively encourage Paul’s decisions, leading to insatiable jealousy. For example, Mrs. Morel sends a message to Miriam as she “…clung… to Paul”, showing how demanding she was for her son’s attention (Lawrence 114). Mrs. Morel’s jealousy for her son’s time during the years in which he should be psychologically independent as an adult tightens the grasp childhood has on his life. In her scheme to control his love life, Mrs. Morel ultimately pushes for Clara, a married women with sexual desire, over Miriam. Mrs. Morel measures herself against Clara and once she realizes she holds more power, she approves of the union regardless of Clara’s marriage, which ultimately showcases how toxic Mrs. Morel is to Paul’s future.
Women comparing themselves to other women reflects the social issue rooted in male perceiving of females as a competition, as Mrs. Morel does. Separate from his judgment of Miriam and respect for his manipulative mother, Paul furthers the male desire for sexuality in his perception of Clara. Moreover, Clara serves as a symbol for sexual desires and appears as a model, which Miriam differs from (Baron 6). Through Clara’s sexual nature and Paul’s attraction to her, he views this sexuality as a prize, perceiving Clara moreso as an object to please him rather than a lover. Society, just as Paul does, view women as property in addition to the contrasting stereotype that women display sexuality only to please men, once again advocating female submission. Overall, Paul’s diverse view of women assemble opinions stemming from his homelife, resembling that of society.
In reaction to Paul’s struggle for maturity in the midst of romance crises, his inner conflict resides from several instances. Specifically, his mother’s influence affects him from birth, as he resents disappointing her. He battles with the idea of doing so as, “[t]he root of Paul’s inner struggle was his male dominated consciousness and the awakening of feminism” (Bo 5). Therefore, Paul struggles with the conscience inherited from his family, as well as society.
Despite his father’s male presence, his mother drives the psychological barrier that Paul continuously puts up against his desire to know himself (Semansky 1). Experiencing his mother and father’s crippled relationship, as well as his intensive love for his mother, Paul’s childhood severely prolongs his struggle. His struggle becomes so intense he eventually cries out, “‘You know mother, I think there must be something the matter with me, that I can’t love” (Lawrence 347). Paul’s internal mindset deters to the point where he feels incapable of establishing relationships in fear of rejecting social and familial expectations. Additionally in his confusion, he deals with the conflict of woman versus woman in Miriam, Mrs. Morel, and Clara. While Miriam symbolizes growth and independence, Mrs. Morel symbolizes stagnance and dependence. Miriam desires a future with Paul, where Mrs. Morel wishes to maintain the present relationship she attains with him. Paul knows that, “[i]t was the communion she wanted. He turned away, as if pained”, acknowledging his internal conflict’s dire state. (Lawrence 100).
Both of the differing traits portray the differing qualities society expects in women, specifying the demands that often contradict another, as Paul resembles this in his desire for both women in different ways. In comparison to Miriam, Clara represents sexual desires and the socially acceptable view of how women should behave towards men. On one hand, Miriam’s timidity and frigidity closes her off sexually from men, but Clara’s nature opens her sexuality more towards men. Paul perceives Miriam’s fear of sexual desires as traits of an unacceptable spouse, believing that she pushes him away, when in reality he does so (Martz 78). Society expects women to give into men sexually, as Paul does. Clara represents the social expectation of a woman’s obedience, but Miriam defies the standard, which further Paul’s confusion in deciding what he truly desires. Paul’s mind remains confused on whether to listen to what he grew accustomed to in his mother, to escape dependence and grow maturely with Miriam, or experience stereotyped fulfilled happiness in Clara. Paul’s inner conflict ultimately shows his battle in whether to escape dependence and grow maturely with Miriam, indulge in stereotyped fulfilled happiness with Clara, or remain loyal and stagnant with Mrs. Morel.
Paul’s perception and treatment of women shows the negative effects of encouraging gender discrimination from each generation. As a whole, the characters in the novel mirror the idea that the man must be superior and the woman must remain inferior. Acceptance of their socially acceptable roles prevails in Mrs. Morel’s subordinance. Specifically, Mrs. Morel endures Mr. Morel’s aggression and entraps herself in a marriage in which she cannot divorce due to low economic status and the patriarchal standards that many women in society struggle with (Bo 3). Such standards allow women to believe their treatment is just, which sets the standard for younger generations. In addition to the inferior complex of women, Lawrence also cements the role of women and the effects pertaining to society. As women were expected to perform household duties, they endure shame if they reject such responsibilities. For example, Miriam experiences scrutiny, “‘[s]he hasn’t got sense even to boil potatoes,’… ‘What is she kept at home for?’…She was utterly humiliated” (Lawrence 147).
Stereotyping women as housewives conditioned to serve their dominant husbands furthers the criticizing of women based on specific standards. Most women’s professions in the Victorian Era entail preparing the house, accepting abuse, and being fearful of such while attempting to earn respect (Bo 4). Women also endure scrutiny in terms of their personality, expected to be perfect in several areas. Specifically, society rejects intense women and promote weak women, as long as they remain not severely weak. These standards remain severe, which Paul influences as he “…paints Miriam as too spiritual, too abstract that she shrinks away from physical reality and that she has a stifling desire to absorb and possess his soul” (Martz 78). Therefore, Paul not only feels like she traps him with her intensity, but also encourages the many expectations men have of women. On the contrary, society also discourages sensitivity because it makes them seem too weak, emphasizing how such polarizing ideas reflect the demands of men. For example, Miriam seems too intense yet as shy and incapable of being strong (Martz 76). Establishing such strict standards for women to follow in both the novel and society contribute to the oppression against women.
In addition to the standards men establish, such restrictions lead to the harsh treatment towards women. The Morels display this as he calls his wife “… the word of ‘ussy’ and ignored that she was his unique wife who used every energy for the whole family” (Bo 3). His aggression showcases such treatment to his sons as justifiable, prolonging the oppression of women due to the lessons taught by male figures. Such aggression leads to males incorporating intimidation as a tool to subdue women as, “Mrs. Morell was trying to save against her confinement…while she remained at home, harassed” (Lawrence 20). This is a further representation of the social indecencies women endure in society, as men view women as objects rather than as women capable of more than the stereotypes instilled. Through men treating women as inferior objects, it furthers the psychological idea that this is their deserved treatment and that anyone rejecting such is in the wrong.
In summation, Paul’s adulthood conflicts arise from his childhood experiences. More specifically, his parents’ relationship embodies his love life where Paul administers the dominant demeanor of his father. The familial foundation sets the precedent for Paul as to how relationships should be, with a dominant father who expects household duties from a subordinate, complacent wife. Therefore, Paul’s adulthood embodies the struggle for a balance between the attributes adorned from his childhood and the psychological independence as he matures into a young man in romance. Additionally, Paul’s perception of women mirrors this idea as well, through what society rejects in Miriam’s complexity and his mother’s loyalty, while his upbringing challenges his inner morals. On a spectrum, gender roles exist in the Victorian Era, as well as in today’s society, which Lawrence depicts through declaring the dominant and submissive roles through his critical characterization. The women represent something larger where the women are subordinate to the man’s development and growth (Hardy 145). Social standards combat modernization, which creates a struggle for society to learn to adapt, while fearing condemnation, as Lawrence implicates through Paul. Hence, due to the implications of social complacency, society should challenge social expectations or live in stagnant fear.