Sons and Lovers
Questions for Study
The novel is arranged in a series of episodes, not necessarily in chronological order. This type of narrative is called episodic. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of narration? One effect this technique has is the blending of different time periods. Another element that contributes to the blending of time periods is the use of the iterative mode, which causes confusion about whether events happened one or many times. Think about the effects these techniques have on the text.
Think about the role the chapter titles play in the novel. Do they reveal too much information about the story? Contrast them with chapter headings in eighteenth-century episodic novels like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones or Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, both of which have elaborate chapter headings describing everything that happens in the chapter. Also think about if the novel would have been different if the chapters had no titles.
What role do the shifting narrative perspectives play in the novel? Trace the shifting perspective throughout the novel to determine from which character’s point of view the story seems to be narrated at each point.
What function does the division of the novel into two parts serve? One possible interpretation: the first part of the novel focuses on Mrs. Morel and the second part focuses on Paul. Does this seem like a valid distinction? What other factors seem to distinguish the two sections of the novel from each other?
Much of the novel is concerned with Paul’s relationship with women, most importantly his mother, Miriam, and Clara. Examine Paul’s interactions with the other male characters in the novel. Consider his father, his brothers, Mr. Pappleworth, Edgar Leivers, Baxter Dawes.
Paul’s close relationship with his mother has provoked many Freudian and Oedipal readings of this novel. Is this type of reading valid? If not, what do you make of the relationship between Paul and his mother, which seems to be the one constant force throughout the novel?
Is Mrs. Morel the most important woman to Paul throughout the novel, or are there moments at which his relationships with Miriam or Clara take precedence? If so, what is the significance of these moments? Why does he always come back to his mother in the end? You may also want to trace the theme of a higher level of understanding between Paul and his mother throughout the novel, possibly beginning with his illness immediately after William’s death.
What goes wrong between Paul and Miriam? Is it just that she cannot compete with his love for his mother, or is there some other problem?
Why does Paul change his mind so often? Trace his on- again, off-again feelings for Miriam and Clara throughout the novel.
Think about the religious aspects of this novel. Consider in particular Miriam’s notions of sacrifice and of “baptism of fire in passion.”
Morel speaks in a dialect throughout the novel. Why might Lawrence have chosen to make Morel use a dialect? Does it set him apart from the other characters? Are there any other characters who speak in this dialect, and, if so, what purpose does this serve? What is the function of language as communication in the novel?
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