Sons and Lovers
Chapter 4: The Young Life of Paul
This chapter begins by describing the way that Paul, in the absence of William, bonded most closely with his sister Annie. She was a tomboy, who played games with the other neighborhood children, and Paul would quietly tag along behind her. One day, while Annie’s favorite doll is lying covered up on the sofa, Paul jumps off the sofa arm and lands on the doll. Annie is very upset, but her brother is perhaps more upset at her grief. A few days later, Paul suggests that they make a sacrifice of the doll, and they burn and smash its remains.
One evening when Paul comes home, he finds his father and older brother in the midst of an argument, which only fails to come to blows because of Mrs. Morel’s intervention.
The family moves out of the Bottoms into a house with an ash-tree, which makes noise when the wind blows through it. Morel likes it, but the children hate it.
Morel still comes home late and drunk most nights, and Paul begins to worry because his mother is worrying about his father. One night he goes out to play, then at night anxiously runs into the kitchen to check on his mother. When he finds that his father has not come, he goes to visit Mrs. Inger, who lives two doors down and has no children of her own. He talks to her for a while, then goes home.
When Morel finally does come home, he is usually rude and irritable. During this time period he becomes more and more shut out from the family affairs, as the children begin to tell their mother everything and their father nothing. This is illustrated by the example of Paul’s prize, which his mother convinces him to tell his father about. During their conversation, it becomes apparent that Morel is an outsider in his own family.
The next part of the narration, however, describes the times of happiness between Morel and his children. When he is happily engrossed in his work, he gets along well with his children. He tells stories, like the ones about Taffy the horse. On these nights, when Morel has some job to do, he goes to bed early and the children feel secure when he is in bed.
One day Paul comes home at dinnertime feeling ill and does not go back to school. It turns out that he has bronchitis. His father visits him while he is ill, but he asks for his mother, and sleeping with his mother comforts him.
The next episode is that of Paul going to collect the money for his father’s pay on Fridays. When his name is called, he is at the back of the room behind all the men and almost misses his turn. He is saved by Mr. Winterbottom, the clerk, who pauses and asks the men to step aside so that Paul can get through. Paul is embarrassed and flustered by the experience, and he is relieved when it is over, and he is outside. He then goes to the New Inn to meet his father and has to wait a long time before he comes. When he gets home, Paul tells his mother he doesn’t want to go collect the money any more. His mother soothes him “in her own way.”
On Friday night, Paul stays home and bakes while his mother goes to the market. He likes to draw or read while the baking is being done. His mother gets home, shows her purchases to Paul, and they discuss the bargains she has gotten.
The rest of the family’s life in the Scargill Street house is rather happy. The children love playing outside on winter evenings with the other neighborhood children.
The final part of the chapter concerns the preparations made for William’s visit at Christmas. The three other children go to the station to meet him and get very discouraged when the train is more than two hours late. At last, however, the train arrives with William. At home the parents are also anxious and begin to quarrel slightly, but finally the children arrive. William has brought presents for everyone, and everyone feels happy. After he returns to London, William is offered a trip to the Mediterranean over the midsummer holiday. However, he declines in favor of returning home, much to the delight of his mother.
This chapter focuses on Paul so that each event is narrated in its relation to him. We are told, for instance, that all the children feel “peculiarly” ill at ease with their father, but particularly Paul. The use of ‘peculiarly’ in this sentence suggests that it is somehow unusual for the children to be against their father. Another example of the focus on Paul is the family’s divergent opinions about the ash-tree: Paul finds it an almost unbearable presence. The disagreement about the ash-tree is representative of the conflict between father and children.
There is a sense that Paul represents all of the children; that narrating what happens to Paul suffices for describing the experiences of all of them. This is created partly by the way that all of the events in this chapter are told in relation to Paul, and partly by passages like the following in which the subjects ‘Paul’ and ‘the children’ are used seemingly interchangeably. Paul wakes, hearing thuds downstairs, and wonders nervously what his father is doing. It seems that events like this begin from Paul’s perspective and continue to include the perspective of all the children.
However, we also see further evidence of the way that Paul is treated differently from the other children; he is more delicate, and Mrs. Morel realizes it. Physically, Paul resembles his mother, and like each of the children, he picks up on and shares her anxieties about her husband.
Even though Paul is treated differently, William is still Mrs. Morel’s favorite. She thinks of him as a successful young man in London, and imagines him as her knight in shining armor.
After he breaks Annie’s doll, Paul feels resentful toward the doll. This is reminiscent of the statement about Mr. Morel in Chapter 2: “He dreaded his wife. Having hurt her, he hated her.”
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!