Lawrence’s Treatment of Modern Psychology in “Sons and Lovers”

One of the essential facts about Lawrence as a novelist is that he led the revolt against reason and pointed out his belief in the physical-mental energy of the individual. Sons and Lovers is one of those literary works of Lawrence where he could incise versatile psychological aspects in human nature.

Unlike other modern novelists, D. H. Lawrence is more prone to human psychology. Lawrence and Virginia Wolf started describing the innermost workings of the human mind through a method that is now popular as the “stream of consciousness method.”

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 crucial book to the thinking of the first decade of the 20th century. Freud seems to influence Lawrence in fashioning his attitude towards sex.

A Supposed Freudian Oedipus Complex in Sons and Lovers

The so-called Oedipus complex that colors Sons and Lovers seems 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’s relationship described in the novel. It is surprising to see how accurately Freudian psychology is Para phrasal in Lawrence’s works and 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 the 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 to advocate complete emancipation of intellect and false morality.

Lawrence Treats Sexuality And Oedipus Complex Harmoniously in Sons and Lovers

Sexuality is one of the leading themes in Sons and Lovers. There are many 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 that refers to the natural tendency of a mother to love her son more than she loves her daughter. The son loves his mother more than he loves his father from the son’s side. The son might even hate the father as he might consider him a rival in his mother’s love.

This Oedipus instinct in the child is later sublimated as he grows up into manhood. The boy goes out into the world, faces other women, and gradually influences his mother, which is the ordinary course. However, sometimes, like Paul in Sons and Lovers, the “mother-fixation” remains even after he has become an adult. Additionally, this has disastrous consequences on his emotional and sexual life.

Lawrence Creates An Oedipal Affinity between Paul And Gertrude

Lawrence develops this oedipal affinity between Paul and his mother from the very outset, 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 knows his mother’s influence in the relationship.

Paul cannot bear the “religious mystic” in Miriam, yet he cannot help being involved in the closeness she demands when he is with her. Paul’s relationship with Miriam is tortured and unsatisfactory. They have so much in common, yet she cannot give him what he needs. She cannot rise to meet the male in him.

Under his mother’s influence, Paul has come to need a woman who can stand up to him, question him, and disagree with him. At the back of Paul’s conscience, there is always 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.”

John Middleton Murry, English Writer

In Essence

Whatever the autobiographical link, Lawrence’s treatment of the maternal-domination had some psychological basis. Gertrude Morel hates her husband and redirects her love towards her son Paul. Thus, there is a bond of adult love between the mother and the child, with no physical outlet because incest is unlikely.

Gertrude 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 profoundly psychological novel. The deep psychological instinct and thought-process are infinitely interesting, although they remain a mystery from a scientific point of view.

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