Animal and natural imagery forming parallels to human dilemmas inSons and Lovers
Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence, is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the depths of human emotions and human psychology. In the words of Richard Aldington, “When you have experienced Sons and Lovers you have lived through the agonies of the young Lawrence striving to win free from his old life. Generally, it is not only considered as an evocative portrayal of working-class life in a mining community, but also an intense study of family, class and early sexual relationships”. These major themes of the novel are unleashed with the aid of animal and natural imageries: they cater to the development of all human emotions and sentiments, which expressed otherwise, would be as bland as egg without yolk.
At the very beginning of the novel, Mrs. Morel is seen living in a very “suffocating” atmosphere, where she feels that she is “buried alive”. The weather is “hot”, thus alluding to the irritant mood of Mrs. Morel/Gertrude. Lawrence includes various descriptions of the “garden” surrounded by the “scent of the flowers”, with which Mrs. Morel “sooths herself”. Nature, as described by the Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, serves as a “nourishing” element for Gertrude. She receives “tranquillity” and “pleasure” from it; two attributes which were almost forbidden to her since soon after her marriage with Walter Morel. She married an “erect”, “ruddy” “cheek[ed]” man with a “non-intellectual”, “gambolling” kind of “humour”, whereas, she herself belonged to a “burgher” “proud” family. Thus her dilemma was that she never got settled in the “unruly” life with Walter, and the only reason she coped up with him was for the sake of her children, referring even more to her nauseated condition. Nature thus, becomes the guardian and the protective balm for her. However, at the same time, Lawrence pricks the idealised illusion of nature: “the sky overhead throbbed and pulsed with light”. He establishes the fact that the weather can be as foreboding and sinister as possible. He shows that Nature, though alive and pulsating, has a threatening and a deadening note to it too. This dilemma is overwhelming and devastating for the characters. She is trapped beneath the “ruddy glare” and between the “smoked” “hedges” at the latter half of the evening. The reader can see a similarity in Gertrude’s life: she is suffering under the entrapment of Walter Morel and cannot free herself from it.
Lawrence shows a platonic love between Paul and Miriam, which after a significant period of roughly eight years, transformed in a physical acceptance of each other. The writer employed naturalistic imagery yet again to highlight the passion and the fervour that the two lovers had in them for each other. Paul had begun to “court her like a lover” now. He was a “man” and not a “youth” any longer. On a visit to the farm, they are astonished to see the “red” “glow” of the sky. In this scene, Lawrence instils numerous shades of red colour in the leaves, the sky and the clouds, which reflects the immense love Paul had for Miriam and vice-versa. The “scarlet” and “crimson” drops were the cherries that hung from the trees on the farm. Cherries in Japanese tradition symbolise “fertility”, “merrymaking” and “festivity”. However, the cherry blossom trees in Japan are known for their “brilliant but short blooming” season. This serves as an analogy for the relationship of Paul and Miriam. It matured and lived, but for an insignificantly, small period of their lives: the quandary lies with the question whether the cherries imply the heated passion or pose as a danger to their relationship. The whole “crimson” and “vermillion” sky comes out to provide them an atmosphere romantic and idealistic enough for them to carry out their desires. Nature adds a “golden” touch to it too, making it more rich and grand an event, sending “thrilling motions” in Paul’s veins. It makes him more conscious of his self and his needs. Mother-nature however, asserts herself in the most unconventional ways too: she swiftly turns her back on the naive and romantic notions, bringing out the true “darkness of the leaves” and the “moaning of the wind”. This gloomy aspect can be related to the approaching break-up of Paul and Miriam. Lawrence, with the aid of foreshadowing and natural imagery, makes it clear to the reader that Paul and Miriam started off loving each other fervently, once they were past their platonic era of love, but the sudden emergence of the grey skies, after the short-lived, but equally dramatic golden-red sunset, takes its place as the dominating theme.
Another Japanese traditional tale is that “a fallen cherry blossom symbolizes a fallen samurai who sacrificed his life for the emperor”. Here, when Paul plucks the cherries from their branches actually materialises the Japanese tradition: Miriam becomes the “sacrificed” “samurai” while Paul is the decisive “emperor”. Their relationship, in the light of this act, could not last longer; it was bound to “nullify” soon enough.
Moving on to the dilemmas highlighted by animal imagery, the reader can link Sigmund Freud’s case-study theory of “Little Hans” to Paul. Hans perceived their family horse as a representation of his father, and hence had developed a phobia against horses. This was fundamental for his oedipal complex to become prominent as displacement is one of the key factors of Freud’s theory. Paul experienced the “agonies of shrinking self-consciousness”. He did not have a “strong” built and was too meek to come up with any substantial occupation for himself. The mere thought to “look for advertisements” killed “all joy”, even “life” for him. Thus, he forced himself to “identify with the aggressor”, as Freud termed it. The “great brown beasts” were “plunging”, “prancing” and “toiling”, and this left Paul awestruck and enthralled. The “leader horse” was the most magnificent of all and Paul secretly wished to be as commanding and as powerful as it. A similar experience is more vivid to Paul when he comes across a “stallion” “with an endless excess of vigour”. He became more conscious of his physicality, and his manliness, thus finally recognising it. It is this acceptance of his masculinity that drives him away from Miriam and closer to Clara, with whom he is liberated to enjoy any sensual pleasures. Lawrence craftily makes this incident with a horse, a medium due to which Paul overcomes his nagging-conscience, and dwells in the worldly pleasure which he had declared forbidden for himself, earlier. For Lawrence, horses are a “dominant symbol” of “lordship” and “vitality”, thus encouraging Paul in his sexual initiation.
Moreover, incest is purely animalistic. Animals don’t have laws and rules forbidding them from mating with their family, hence it is quite usual that they reproduce with their siblings/parents. All modern day cheetahs may be descended from a single surviving family unit hence their genetic uniformity. The animals will be “breed true” and “pure”, doubling up good genes and eliminating unwanted traits. However, with humans, it is as harmful and as incestuous as possible. Paul dwells in an incestuous relationship with his mother, Mrs. Morel: they at least commit emotional incest, if not blatant physical one. Lawrence, more likely, enforces this notion: “the two shared lives” and he loved “sleeping with his mother” which was nothing less than how he would feel is he was sleeping with his “beloved”.
Moreover, “dog” imagery is very prominent in this novel. Miriam dehumanised as a “bloodhound” by Clara. This specie of dogs is known for its tracking-quality. Miriam followed Paul till the very end of the novel, making advances towards him in the most subtle fashions of all, but remained in vain. It also reflects her loyal nature and her faithful feelings for Paul. Moreover, Mr. Morel and Mrs. Morel had a cat and dog relationship. Walter “snarled” just like a mad-dog who is about to unleash its most ruthless nature. Morel, being the ruddy miner he was, cropped William’s hair “like a sheep”. Here, the dairy animal represents the sacrificial nature, rather the sacrificial life of William. He was torn between his beloved and the aspirations and desires Mrs. Morel had for him. The mother’s influence stuck with him like his shadow and even when he left for London, he was not able to adjust with Lily. A “pigeon” is yet again a bird-imagery employed by Lawrence to symbolise the to-and-fro running of Paul: from Miriam to Clara to Miriam to Clara and finally resting with Mrs. Morel. It shows the inconsistency in his life, which was his first and foremost dilemma. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Paul procrastinated at times, and such over thinking led him to end up all alone.
The novel ends on a tragic note as Mrs. Morel dies. The nature comes in union to express its grief as well: the “night” went in “extinction”, the “stars and sun” were “spinning round for terror”, leaving Paul “tiny and daunted”. This reflects his “nothingness”, his “purposelessness” in life, which had always been around him, at every corner of his life. So, as a final note, Paul takes the direction of the “darkness”, towards the “faintly humming town”. His emotions are roused with anguish and futility. Thus, Lawrence with the aid of animal and natural imagery brought out the true feelings and predicament of his characters.
Sons & Lovers. D. H. Lawrence.