Psychoanalysis in Fiction; D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers
Posted on March 15th, 2016

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge

We have lost the art of living, and in the most important science of all, the science of daily life, the science of behavior, we are complete ignoramuses. We have psychology instead.  -D. H. Lawrence  

Author D.H. Lawrence is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Lawrence has been praised for his stories that explore human nature through frank discussions of sex, psychology, and religion. The work and life of D. H. Lawrence is providing a rich source of material for examination of the respective importance in personality development of Oedipal conflict and the pre-Oedipal establishment of a sense of self.   Lawrence‟s works are therefore the accumulation of repressed memories

His famous novel Sons and Lovers is considered as more of a biographical fiction. However the setting, characters, plot, theme, and tone of the book are changed from their factual model into a fictitious model. According to Anthony Beal in D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (is) the autobiographical novel that tells so much about the first twenty-five years of his life, about his family and friends and society in which he grew up. In this novel Lawrence reexamined his childhood, his relationship with his mother, and her psychological effect on his sexuality.  Sons and Lovers, which projects the young Lawrence persona’s struggle between life and death, partly accounts for a deepening sensitivity to life and death in modern society in Lawrence’s subsequent works.

The novel depicts the lower class in English coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire. Sons and Lovers tell the story of the Morel family, and in particular, of Paul Morel. Paul witnesses family violence and his mother’s unhappy marriage to an uneducated alcoholic coalminer. His mother Gertrude who is bitterly unhappy with her married life devotes all her love and ambition to Paul.

Paul’s conflict between his love for his mother and his need to grow up and have sexual experience are central to the novel. Also Gertrude’s jealousy towards Paul’s girlfriends causes interpersonal unconscious conflicts in Paul. Paul cannot expand towards the universe in normal activity and form an independent sex interest because for him his mother has become the universe; she stands between him and life and the other woman. Trembled between his unconscious desire for his mother and attraction to his girlfriend Paul finally ended up in relationship failure. After the death of his mother Gertrude, Paul goes in to a dramatic psychological transformation.

Sons and Lovers is primarily a study of human relationships. Divided into two parts, Sons and Lovers presents to us in the first part of the book a vivid illustration of family life of the Morels, their working class condition, childhood growth, games, and problems and festivities, the little amount of money they make and the debts they owe. The theme of interest split between father and mother is constructively portrayed. The second part of the novel poses to us the theme of struggle for Paul’s soul between his mother and Miriam, a girl that lives in a small farm with her family near the Morels.

The novel has a form, which is governed by its inner logic and is rigorously controlled by an idea. It is not a mere chronological account of a family. Lawrence’s primary interest lies in the spiritual and psychological development of his characters.

Sigmund Freud rebelled against the Victorian idea that children are asexual. Freud stated that psychological evolution of the emotion of love as finally expressed by a man or a woman towards a member of the other sex. According to psychoanalysts Sons and Lovers reflects one of Freud’s most famous theories is the Oedipus complex.

As indicated by Freud man usually falls in love for the first time in his life with the image of his mother. When the boy grows up a little, his super ego gets activated.   As he grows older, his super ego is suppressed by his ego. The protagonist Paul, in this novel is trapped by the conflict between his ego and super ego.

The Oedipus complex of Freud is based on the inevitability of the tragic fate of a man who fled his home to escape the prophecy of parricide. Thus, he fulfilled it by killing a stranger who proved to be his father. The meaning of Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King is found to lie in the clash between Oedipus’ omnipotent narcissism (hubris) and the power of the unconscious psyche, rather than in cross-generational sex. As Freud does, this consideration of the tragedy of Oedipus takes as its point of departure the inevitability of the confrontation between father and son. Paul has deep resentment towards his father and unconsciously sees him as a competitor. When the father is dead the completion is over. Paul’s passions upon his mother and the mother’s upon him are quietly mutual.

Freud’s theory of the oedipal complex, however, held that the heterosexual outcome was the “normal” resolution, while the homosexual outcome represented arrested sexual development. In the normal resolution the boy identifies as a male with the father, gives up the mother as a love object, and later substitutes another woman of his choice for the mother.  He suggests that infantile sexuality is bisexually orientated the final object choice due to repression of either homosexual or heterosexual desires.

On the evidence of Sons and Lovers, neither Lawrence as author nor Paul as a character in the novel appear to master their deepest feelings towards the mother. Paul never utters a single word against her gentle but unyielding rule, trying to contain his violently conflicting emotions, wildly alternating from admiration and compassion to anger and despair. But at the end Paul finds a new direction.

………”Mother!” he whispered—”mother!” She was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this. And she was gone, intermingled herself. He wanted her to touch him, have him alongside with her. But no, he would not give in. Turning sharply, he walked towards the city’s gold phosphorescence. His fists were shut, his mouth set fast. He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.

(Sons and Lovers D.H. Lawrence)

At the end of the novel, Paul takes a major step in releasing himself from his Oedipus complex. He intentionally overdoses his dying mother with morphia, an act that reduces her suffering but also subverts his Oedipal fate, since he does not kill his father, but his mother.

  1. H. Lawrence felt that society made people lifeless and unreal, and that the class system was pernicious. Lawrence believed in the ‘life force’, in Nature, its beauty and its power. He also believed passionately in man’s natural instincts; he believed that sexual feeling between a man and woman was natural and should be celebrated. He was the first novelist in western culture to attempt to explore sexuality seriously and frankly.

References

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Clark M.(2009).Suppose Freud had chosen Orestes instead.J Anal Psychol. 2009 Apr;54(2):233-52.

Datan N.(1988).The Oedipus Cycle: developmental mythology, Greek tragedy, and the sociology of knowledge.Int J Aging Hum Dev.  ;27(1):1-10.

de Kuyper E.(1993).The Freudian construction of sexuality: the gay foundations of heterosexuality and straight homophobia.J Homosex.  ;24(3-4):137-44.

Gutierrez D.(1980).D.H. Lawrence and modern destructiveness.Suicide Life Threat Behav.10(4):219-29.

Haritatou, N.(2012).Emotion and the Unconscious: The Mythicization of Women in Sons and Lovers.

Heenen-Wolff S.(2011).Infantile bisexuality and the ‘complete oedipal complex’: Freudian views on heterosexuality and homosexualityInt J Psychoanal.  ;92(5):1209-20.

Kuttner,A.B.(1916).  “`Sons and Lovers’: A Freudian Appreciation,” in The Psychoanalytic Review , Vol. III, No. 3.

Mbanefo, O.S. (2013).Psycho-Analysis in Fiction and a Study of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. AFRREV LALIGENS, Vol.2 (1).

Niazi,N.(2013). A Stylistic Analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature    Vol. 2 No. 4 .

Sons and Lovers. Teachers Notes. Penguin Readers Retrieved From http://www.penguinreaders.com/pdf/downloads/pr/teachers-notes/9781405880114.pdf

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