USE OF SYMBOLISM IN D H LAWRENCE’S SON’S AND LOVERS

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International Research Journal of Humanities, Language and Literature Vol. 3, Issue 5, May 2016 IF- 3.558 ISSN: (2394-1642) © Associated Asia Research Foundation (AARF) Publication

Website: www.aarf.asiaEmail : editor@aarf.asia , editoraarf@gmail.com

USE OF SYMBOLISM IN D. H. LAWRENCE’S SON’S AND LOVERS

Dr. Gopal Sinha

Qtr. No. New D/13, P.O. ISM, District – Dhanbad

Jharkhand, Pin – 826004.

Symbols add fragrance to life. In novels its use adds to the meaning of expressions.

They help a writer in communicating and expressing the psyche or consciousness of his

characters. They suggest more than what they actually describe. Lawrence also uses symbols

like most modern novelists to increase the expressiveness of his language and to vivify much

that would otherwise remain vague and unknowable. He uses symbols as apparent tools to

exemplify his innermost instincts thus creating a rainbow effect on our emotions. His uses of

Symbolism in most of his novels mean to explicate his views on a variety of thoughts which

emanate out of his basic philosophy of life. As Mark Spilka says, “The symbolic scenes are

extremely literal and the symbols seem to function as integral strands in the web of emotional

tensions.”

In Sons and Lovers, we have a host of such symbolic scenes which have a catalytic

effect upon the intensity of the plot and action in the novel. The description of coal pits is

symbolic. They symbolise a particular way of and attitude towards life. The descent and

ascent of the coal pits becomes symbolic of the sexual rhythm, or the rhythm of sleep and

awakening, or of life and death. In the arms of Mrs. Morel, Paul is bleeding. Two drops of

blood that fall are symbolic of blood tie between Mrs. Morel and Paul. The Swing at Willey

Farm symbolises the alternation between love and hate that characterises Paul – Miriam

relationship. The swing advances to a point and then moves backward, and then again comes

forward. Similarly, Paul loves Miriam, but then suddenly his love changes into hate. The

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and give herself over fully to the moment is symbolic of her timidity, and lack of physical

courage. This very timidity is further symbolised by the way in which she feeds the hens.

Similarly, she has a habit of raising everything to a spiritual intensity, and this habit is

symbolised by the incident of the rose bush. Sons and Lovers is a novel in which flowers are

everywhere. The love of Paul and Miriam develops in the midst of natural surroundings, and

the flowers symbolise its freshness and innocence. They are also symbolic of Miriam‟s youth

and beauty.

The ash-tree outside the residence of the Morels is the symbol of all the dark,

mysterious forces of nature which hover round man and are the instruments of tragedy. It also

symbolises the discord and disharmony in the Morel family, and the horror of the children

who lie awake at night apprehending murder at every moment. The tree shrieks and moans at

night as if it were an externalisation of the terror of the children or a prophecy of approaching

doom. It is a complex symbol carrying more than one meaning.

The flower picking scene is highly symbolic. The major figures – Paul, Miriam and

Clara – pick flowers. “Miriam picks flowers with false reverence : Paul with love, like a

lover; and Clara does not pick them at all.” This suggests that the flower of love between

Miriam and Paul will be killed, because Miriam seems to be killing life out of flowers. The

way she picks flowers suggests that she has no right to life. When it comes to Clara, she

states quite boldly that flowers should not be picked because it kills them, suggesting that she

does not want to be picked by any man. Paul picks flowers almost naturally and

spontaneously. This shows his naturalness and impulsive, rather spontaneous flow of live.

Thus the flowers symbolise the characters‟ attitude to life.

There are a host of several minor symbols in the novel which carry varied meanings at

different points in the plot. The burned potatoes symbolise Miriam‟s total absorption in Paul

as well as her humiliation at the hands of her brothers and later on at the hands of Paul

himself. Similarly the charred bread symbolises Paul‟s total absorption in Miriam. The pollen

filled flowers, the feeding of the hen and other domestic animals symbolise the fecundity and

fertility of nature. The gold phosphorescence of the city at the end of the novel is the symbol

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In his excellent History of the English, Walter Allen compares Clayhanger and Sons

and Lovers and emphasizes another important aspect of the novel. The novelist captures, he

says, “the moment of life, itself” both in men and women in the physical world of nature. It is this “moment of life itself” that makes Sons and Lovers the undeniably great book that it is. “It is charged with the burden of life, weighed down, like all Lawrence‟s best writing, with

the pressure of living things – trees, flowers, animals, men and women.” One cannot open

any page of the novel without coming across some passage or sentence that pulsates with this

“moment of life”, marking the rhythm of existence. It is the very “shimmer of life,” “the shimmering protoplasm” that we get from him. And it is the sheer urgency of his writing that

brings us into intimate contact with the very soul of his characters. Nothing is inanimate for

him; life quivers and surges in everything around him. His words seem hot and quivering on

the page, pulsating with life. In the wonderful first chapter of the second part of the novel, we

experience Lawrenace‟s writing at its passionate best and most impressionistic. He has the

trick of catching light and air and water and jumbling them harmoniously together. The result

is the whole of the chapter entitled, “Lad and girl love” is like some “unending Monet

landscape, wooded, rippling, stippled in shadow and sunlight.”

Sons and Lovers is traditional in its use of the convention of the omniscient author to

summarise the action, and to direct our attention to its significance with a fullness and

frankness which recalls George Eliot. However, his comments are rarely intrusive, they do

not inflict upon the readers the philosophy and morality of the author. Thus the novel strikes

a modern note in being entirely free from moral didacticism. Whatever „moral‟ or philosophy

there is we get through the dialogue between the characters, and never through authorial

comments as was the case with the Victorians, like Thackeray and others. This modernism of

the novel is also seen its free and frank treatment of sex-relationships. “The archetypal nature

of the mother-son relationship depicted in the book is attested not only by the findings of

psychoanalysis but also by the innumerable novels of the past fifty years which have dealt

explicitly with the same basic situation. The novel is also modern in having a crippled hero

(in the emotional sense at least, though weak physically as well). “One who is a victim rather

than an agent.”

The texture of the novel is enriched by the use of images and symbols, which help us

to grasp the experience offered. To quote Miss Van Ghent, “Perhaps in no other novelist do

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expressive functions of the characters through some highly evocative images. For instance,

“the fear of the children that their father might do harm to their mother is identified with the shrieking of the ash tree.” They lay with their hearts in the grip of an intense anguish. The

wind came through the tree fiercer and shrieked. And then came the horror of the sudden

silence. Associated with Walter Morel are images of darkness, which suggest the dark,

unknown, instinctive side of life. The most significant use of the image is seen in the scene

when Mrs. Morel, locked out of the house by her husband, is wandering in the moonlight

outside.Herself scared with passion; she suddenly becomes conscious of the life-force

asserting itself in the dance of lilies in the white light. She finds herself helpless before the

very power against which she rebels, for moonlight her is equated with phallic power.

Miriam‟s diffidence in feeding the hen is symbolic of her frigidity.

The modernism of the novel is best seen in its use of impressionistic technique for

narration and character delineation. There is no plot in the conventional sense. There are no

intrigues, no mysteries, no ling-lost heirs and no mistaken identities, etc. The novel does not

follow the ordinary chronological sequence of most 19th century fiction, but uses a freer and

more introspective form. The narration moves freely backward and forward in time. Even as

early as Chapter III, there is constant alternation between the panoramic view of the larger

community and the close-up of the Morel family, and, “this technique provides the essential

structural patterns of the novel,” and replaces, “the traditional narrative structure of orderly sequence in time.” In characterisation, too, the interest shifts from the external to the internal.

The tangle of emotions and sensations in which Paul is enmeshed – weariness, hopelessness,

possessive love etc is also symbolic. Like a modern novelist, he tries to express psyche or

soul of Paul and since the resources of the ordinary language, however rich, are not

sufficiently expressive for the purpose, extensive use is made of highly suggestive symbols.

The novel is replete with nature symbols. It is rich in descriptions of nature and of the

non-human world. There is a lyrical quality about his nature descriptions. Lawrence gives

one the impression that he rejoices in the life of nature. He never tires of descriptions of

birds, flowers, animals, trees, and the natural surroundings. Sons and Lovers contains detailed

account of the countryside of his youth – the hills, the valleys, the woods and fields, the

smoke-filled and ugly atmosphere of the mines. With loving care he describes the beauty of

the lily dancing in the moonlight, the rose-bush that enchants Miriam, the life on the farm, the

shrieking of the ash tree, the life on the Willey Farm. Some of the descriptions of sunrise and

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“The sun was going down. Every open evening, the hills of Derbyshire were blazed

over with red sunset. Mrs. Morel watched the sun sink from the glistening sky, leaving a soft

flower-blue overhead, while the western space went red as if all the fire had swum down

there, leaving the bell cast flawless blue. The mountain-ash berries across the field stood

fierily out from the dark leaves.”

The love of Paul Morel towards two women of very dissimilar natures is symbolic of

the common conflict in human lives regarding the two aspects of love; the one spiritual and

other physical. While meeting of two minds is symbolic of spiritual love, which distinguishes

us from the lower beings; the hard fact of physical attraction and consummation in love for

complete fulfilment is undeniably true. The dichotomy faced by Paul is that he is incapable of

realizing both ends in the same women. While Miriam is all mind and scant body, Clara is

out and out Carnal, with not even an iota of spirituality. Such love, as develops between Paul

and Clara can at best be transitory and selfish. Once the initial fire is used up, the relationship

gradually looses all charm. The symbolism inherent in the love of Paul and Clara is that of

the flower plucking scene. While Paul picks flowers with love, Miriam picks them with false

reverence and Clara does not pick them at all. Clara believes that plucking flowers kills them.

A literal meaning of Clara‟s submission speaks of a novel mind, however at a symbolic level,

it connotes that Clara does not wish to be dominated by any single man. In is not in her nature

to be mentally pre-occupied with anyone. Her immediate concern is the satisfaction of her

physical needs, which finds apt fulfilment through the person of Paul. Clara provides Paul the

complete carnal satisfaction which his youth desired from Miriam but could not find

fulfilment. Miriam on the other hand is frigid and too pre-occupied with the soul of Paul.

While she loves Paul deeply, she is shocked at the natural end of love. Marriage according to

her was a holy union of two souls where each finds in the other the home for their respective

troubled selves. She cannot understand that Pual desires her body and mind at one go. That is

the reason, even after sacrificing her virginity to Paul, she is rejected by Paul, because he

feels that he was coming a crime by loving her physically. Such relationships, though ideal,

cannot stand the test of time. Paul on his part fails miserably. He is not able to balance his

feelings with the women he loves and his mother. His mind is torn apart by his self created

ideal of women-hood; as typified by his mother; which he is unable to find in any women of

this world. Naturally the feminine symbolism of this novel makes us feel that Lawrence was

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suffers because of his inbuilt weaknesses; we can hardly misjudge that Lawrence‟s own ego

was at stake; because through the numerous instances and symbols of this novel, we are

assured that all was not well inside the creative craft of the novelist.

The symbolism in Sons and Lovers is ingrained in the plot, characters, incidents and

natural scenery described by Lawrence. Paul is the symbol of frustrated love, Miriam of

perverted conservatism, Clara of gross hedonism, Baxter Dawes of Brute force and brutality,

Mrs. Morel of ineffective gentleness (one which fails to reform the animal instincts of her

husband), William of false patriotism and indecision, Gyp of transient fashions, and so on

and so forth. Each character is endowed with a special instinct which goes on to lead to his

malformation and eventual failure in life. We can compare Hardy‟s pessimistic vein in a large

portion of character portrayal of Lawrence in Son‟s and Lovers. While Hardy make use of

chance or fate for the sufferings undergone by his central characters in his novels, Lawrence

has made the characters themselves suffer because they lack one or the basic virtues essential

to lead a happy life. We all can choose for ourselves. While freedom of choice; to see

between right and wrong is enshrined even in our scriptures, Lawrence shows us how the

malfunction of our judgements can lead to ruination of not only our own lives but also those

who are dear to us. The scenes described in the novel relating to the love of Paul and Miriam

and later between Paul and Clara are deeply symbolic. While the freshness of flowers in

Willey Farm is symbolic of the innocent and mystic love of Paul and Miriam, the welling of

the tides signify the rising and falling of the passion that ensues between Paul and Clara.

Another interesting symbolism that is evocative of Lawrence powers of suggestion is

the physical structure as presented by the novelist of Miriam and Clara. While Miriam is

described in simple strokes of genuine women-hood, signifying untarnished love and total

dedication, the description of Clara is symbolically passionate. She is described in minute

detail. She has a full body and a slightly uplifted upper lip, either in scorn of men or for

eagerness to be kissed. Her broad shoulders are symbolic of stamina and desire. She is

genuinely frank and smacks all forms of hypocrisy. In her attitude towards Paul, she is purely

physical. She declares, much to the embarrassment of Paul at one time, that Miss Limb

desires a man. In the scenes of love making between Paul and Clara, the novelist makes full

use of natural symbolism. While the love between them reaches its climax within a short

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As a whole, Lawrence has uniquely placed his message across quite poignantly through the

effective use of symbolism in his autobiographical novel. The symbols are rich but simple.

They have lesser complexity and depth compared to the symbolism in his later novels as „The Rainbow‟ and „The Women in Love‟. Keeping in view the richness and frequency of Lawrence‟s symbols, Prof. William Tindal tries to align him with the French Symbolists like

Baudlaire who use symbols as suggestive evocations of timeless spiritual reality. But,

Lawrence does not belong to this tradition. He uses him symbols as material and focal

expressions of the powerful forces of nature and of the emotional attitudes of his characters.

The subtlety of Lawrence‟s insight into the psychology of his creations makes them stand out

in the grand arena of great fictional persona of this genre. And his symbolism certainly

magnifies the appeal of this great novelist‟s fictional masterpieces. And Sons and Lovers

surely stand on the top of them all.

References :

1. Moore, H T. : The Life and Work of D H Lawrence

2. Beal, Anthony : D H Lawrence (Writers and Critics Series)

3. Leavis, F R. : D H Lawrence : Novelist

4. Hough, G. : The Dark Sun : A Study of D H Lawrence

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