After his drunken outburst, Mr. Morel is contrite and ashamed. He soon forgets about the fight, but the incident dents his confidence, and he seems to “shrink” and become less sure of himself. He stops staying out in the pub every evening and, instead, returns home straight after work. He takes care of himself during the week, preparing his own lunch and rising early to leave for work before Mrs. Morel is up. He loves to walk across the fields to get to the mine, but he is so used to his work that he is equally content in his long days underground. Although they spar over the housework, Mr. Morel helps Mrs. Morel round the house as her due date approaches.
Mr. Morel is afraid of himself and what he is capable of when he is drunk. He knows that he has wronged his wife and tries to make amends without outwardly admitting fault. Mr. Morel is associated with nature because he literally works in the earth. He has been completely shaped by his environment and experience as a miner and sees the mine as an extension of the natural world.
Mrs. Morel appreciates that she is luckier than many of her neighbors to have a husband who helps her with the chores. One day, when she is out in the lane, a man named “Hose” passes through and Mrs. Morel watches as this man pays her neighbors for pairs of stockings that they have darned for him. Mrs. Morel goes inside, contemptuous of the low wages “Hose” pays the women.
Women were generally viewed as responsible for domestic work in this period and so, despite Mr. Morel’s flaws, he is more considerate than the average husband in this sense. This is a job that women could take on to supplement the household income and sewing was generally considered women’s work. Mrs. Morel feels that she is above this type of labor and that the women are being exploited. She looks down on the women because they publicly show their poverty by taking this type of work.
One morning, not long after this, Mrs. Morel goes into labor and calls her neighbor to send for the midwife. She gives birth to another son. This time the child is fair with blue eyes. Mr. Morel stays late at work and arrives home to find his wife has given birth. He reluctantly goes upstairs to see her and meet the baby, but Mrs. Morel senses his reserve and there is a restraint between them that stops them from being affectionate with each other.
In this period children were generally born at home, with the assistance of a midwife or doctor.
While she recovers from the birth, Mrs. Morel lies in bed and daydreams about her children. She feels she has “no life of her own” and all her hopes and dreams revolve around the children and their futures. She is extremely close to her eldest son William, to the point where, if she is ill or in pain, he becomes upset. Mrs. Morel is amused by this but finds it touching. William is not impressed by his baby brother and complains that he looks “nasty.”
As a woman at this time period, Mrs. Morel is unlikely to go on to have a career after she is married and has children. Although she loves her children, Mrs. Morel does not feel satisfied with her marriage or her domestic life and feels she has nothing to look forward to, except more of the same. William is jealous of the new baby and worried he will take his mother’s attention away from him.
The young minister in the village, Mr. Heaton, sometimes comes to visit Mrs. Morel during this period and she enjoys his company and hopes that her husband will not interrupt them. Mrs. Morel feels sorry for Mr. Heaton, whose young wife has recently died, and helps him plan his sermons so that they are not too “fantastical” and will be relatable for the congregation of the mining town.
Mr. Morel gets in the way of Mrs. Morel’s enjoyment, which shows that, though they are married, they have different interests and lead separate lives. Mr. Heaton has complicated intellectual ideas about religion, but Mrs. Morel is very practical and realizes that the miners and their families are generally uneducated and will not understand or relate to this point of view.
One evening when the minister is there, Mr. Morel comes home early. He is disdainful of Mr. Heaton’s profession and postures in front of the young preacher, suggesting that Mr. Heaton does not know the meaning of hard work. He makes a point of sitting at the table in his pit clothes, dirtying the nice cloth Mrs. Morel has spread out for the minister, and complains about pains in his head. William, who is watching the scene, is silently disgusted by his father’s uncouth behavior.
Mr. Morel is insecure and wants to show off in front of the minister, who he knows he can physically intimidate. He feels inferior to Mr. Heaton, because Mr. Heaton is educated and he is not, and reacts by spoiling the effort that Mrs. Morel has gone to on Mr. Heaton’s behalf. William sides with his mother, who respects Mr. Heaton, and looks down on his father.
Sensing he is unwelcome, Mr. Heaton leaves, and Mr. and Mrs. Morel are left tense and angry together. Mrs. Morel complains about the dirty tablecloth and snaps at William, who grows sullen and kicks over a chair. She has been undermining her husband’s authority for some time and knows that the children take her side against him. When he tries to take back control of the household—egged on by his friend Jerry Purdy, who encourages Mr. Morel to put his foot down and dominate his wife—Mrs. Morel simply laughs at him. Mr. Morel takes his revenge by rationing the money he gives her and spends more time out drinking.
Mr. and Mrs. Morel are locked in a power struggle. Mr. Morel wishes to control his wife and gain the respect of his children, but he has lost their respect through his past behavior and cannot win it back by forcing them to obey him. Mrs. Morel shows him that she finds his efforts pathetic when she laughs at him. Mr. Morel then abuses his power over his wife (she is financially reliant on him) and deliberately makes her position difficult.
One evening, after one of their fights, Mrs. Morel takes the children out of the house because Mr. Morel has lashed out at William. She sits on a hillside near the house and watches the sunset with the baby on her lap. As she looks down at the child, she feels guilty because, although she loves him, she did not want him throughout her pregnancy, and she thinks that he looks sad because of this. She feels overwhelmed suddenly and holds the baby up to the sun, almost to “give him back.” She fears for the child’s future and decides, on impulse, that she should name him Paul.
Mrs. Morel is overwhelmed. She struggles to manage the household and feels guilty because, even though she loves the baby, the extra work that he makes for her is a source of stress. Although she feels guilty, her action (when she holds the baby up to the sun) demonstrates that she does not want him and wishes he had not been born. Paul’s name is associated with the Christian saint, St. Paul, who was blinded on the road to Damascus. This mirrors the dazzling of the baby as he is held up to the light.
Mr. Morel is unusually bad tempered during this time and stomps about the house. One night, Mrs. Morel loses her temper with him and he storms out to the pub. She sits up waiting for him with baby Paul and thinks bitterly about her situation. She wishes she could control her anger with her husband but knows that if he comes home drunk, she will not be able to keep her mouth shut.
Mrs. Morel does not want to provoke her husband, because he may become violent, but she is proud and knows that she is being treated badly. She knows her sense of self-respect will drive her to call her husband out for his disrespectful behavior.
When Mr. Morel does arrive home, he is very drunk and demands that Mrs. Morel behave like a proper wife and make him dinner. Mrs. Morel refuses and, in his anger, Mr. Morel pulls the drawer out of the table and throws it at her. The drawer cuts her head and stuns her, and Mr. Morel is immediately contrite. She scornfully allows him to help her clean the wound. As he does this, Mr. Morel notices that blood drips onto the baby, whom Mrs. Morel still holds against her breast.
Mr. Morel refers to the misogynistic belief that a wife should unquestioningly obey her husband. Although this belief had been widely held in previous centuries, attitudes towards marriage and the treatment of women were changing at this time. Although Mr. Morel wants his wife’s respect, he loses it further by resorting to violence.
The next morning, Mrs. Morel tells the children that she bumped her eye on the edge of the coal bunker. Mr. Morel sulks in bed all day. He is wracked with guilt because of what happened and cannot cope with this; instead of facing what he has done, he blames Mrs. Morel and convinces himself that she drove him to it. When he does get up, he is sullen and quiet and rushes out to the pub as soon as possible.
Mrs. Morel hides the truth from the children to protect them and so that they do not turn against their father. This is noble of her considering how Mr. Morel has behaved. Mr. Morel is a coward and blames his wife for his emotional outburst rather than taking responsibility for his temper.
A week later, Mrs. Morel notices that Mr. Morel has begun to steal from her; he takes money from her housekeeping purse. She is disgusted that her husband would sink to these depths and “sneak” behind her back and eventually confronts him about it. Mr. Morel is furious, packs up his things, and tells her he is leaving her. For a moment, Mrs. Morel panics and wonders how she will provide for the children if he is gone; she knows deep down that he will not go far, but the incident upsets her deeply.
Mrs. Morel is consistently disgusted by her husband’s dishonesty. She is totally financially reliant on him, however, and, even if she could find work, would not earn enough to support her children. This shows that, although Mrs. Morel cannot respect her husband, he has a great deal of power over her simply because she is a woman.
When William comes back from school, he is upset to find that his father has left. He and Annie begin to cry, and Mrs. Morel tiredly berates them. As the evening wears on, Mrs. Morel grows anxious. Her fears are allayed, however, when she goes to get coal and notices Mr. Morel’s bundle of things – which he had taken with him – stowed behind the door of the “coal-place.” Mrs. Morel tells the children and tells them to leave the bundle where it is. William is elated that his father has not really gone, and Mrs. Morel laughs every time she thinks of the little bundle stashed away.
Mr. Morel never really intends to leave and only implies this to try and frighten Mrs. Morel. This shows that he does not care about her feelings, because he makes her worry all day, and only thinks about himself. He wants to frighten her so that she will appreciate him, but his behavior does not earn her respect. Mrs. Morel merely thinks her husband is laughable and pathetic.
Mr. Morel comes back later that night and tries to make Mrs. Morel feel grateful that he has returned. She softly remarks that the children can bring his bundle in the next morning. Hearing this, Mr. Morel “slinks” out to collect his belongings and then creeps back inside and goes to bed. Mrs. Morel is amused by this but feels “bitter” because this is the man she has married.
Mr. Morel tries to abuse his power over Mrs. Morel because he knows she will be financially helpless without him. His plan backfires, however, because Mrs. Morel is more intelligent than he gives her credit for and understands what he has done. Although she wins the fight, Mrs. Morel is disappointed that her husband is so cowardly and dishonest.