Over the next few weeks, Mr. Morel falls ill, and Mrs. Morel must nurse him and care for the household and the children alone. The neighbors make food for her and help where they can, and Mr. Morel’s colleagues put aside money for her from the mine’s profits, but it is a very hard time in her life. This period softens Mrs. Morel towards her husband slightly, but, in general, her affections for him have completely waned and she is able to tolerate him more because she has become indifferent to him. Instead, she begins to focus all her energy on William. Mr. Morel feels himself alone and abandoned while Mrs. Morel plans joyfully for William’s future.
Mining communities were close knit and communal. This is demonstrated by the fact that the neighbors support Mrs. Morel while her husband is unable to work. Mrs. Morel no longer cares about her husband and this makes it easier for her to tolerate him. She no longer tries to change him or to make him respect her; she simply accepts him for what he is and no longer thinks about him.
Although Mr. Morel returns to his old self after a while, he feels that his “authority” in the home has dissipated. Mrs. Morel hardly notices him even when he tries to assert himself. Paul, who is a toddler now, is afraid of his father and will not let Mr. Morel hold him. This upsets Mrs. Morel, who is pregnant with another child. She gives birth to another son, called Arthur, and this child immediately bonds with Mr. Morel.
Mr. Morel is aware of the change in Mrs. Morel, and unconsciously knows that he has lost her respect and her love for good. She will no longer listen to him or fight with him because she no longer cares for his opinion at all.
Domestic life continues as usual for the Morels. Paul grows into a rather wan, delicate child, who occasionally has “fits of depression.” One afternoon, when Mrs. Morel goes out to buy yeast from a man who is selling it in the lane, she is harassed by one of her neighbors who claims that William has ripped her son’s collar. As the yeast man passes, he recites passages from the Bible to the fighting women. Mrs. Morel confronts William, but William explains that he tore the boy’s shirt by accident. When Mr. Morel comes home, he too has heard about the incident from the neighbors and is ready to beat William as punishment. Mrs. Morel gets between them and fiercely defends her son.
Paul’s unhappiness supports Mrs. Morel fear that he will have a sad life. It is ironic that the man recites Bible verses to the women because Christianity is based on ideas of forgiveness and charity and the women are being uncharitable and fighting with each other. Mrs. Morel takes her son’s side against her husband’s. This further emphasizes the divide between them and foreshadows the divide between the children and their father as they grow up.
Around this time, Mrs. Morel joins the “women’s guild” in the town. She enjoys this because of the intellectual work it gives her to do and the children like it because it makes their mother happy. Some of the husbands in the community object to this organization because it leads the women to criticize their lives and how they are treated at home, but the Morel children love to hear about the guild meetings from their mother.
The women’s guild was a social organization which provided educational classes for married women and mothers. The existence of this organization reflects the growing appetite for changes in the way women were treated by society. Mrs. Morel feels fulfilled by intellectual activity, suggesting that women are just as capable of intellectual work as men. This was a relatively new idea in the early twentieth century, as women were broadly believed to be most fulfilled when they focused entirely on the needs of their husbands and children.
When William is thirteen, Mrs. Morel gets him a job at this Co-op. Mr. Morel objects to this and complains that he went down the pit when he was around William’s age, but Mrs. Morel is adamant that William will not grow up to be a miner. William is a bright, athletic lad and Mrs. Morel is proud of him. When he is seventeen, Mr. Morel makes a drunken bet that William could beat anyone in the village in a bike race and, although Mrs. Morel is horrified and anxious about the race, William returns victorious and presents the prize to her.
Mrs. Morel wants a better life for William than the life of a miner. Although Mr. Morel is proud of his profession, mining was considered common and working class. Mrs. Morel wants her children to have middle-class professions which require literacy and education. William gives the prize to his mother, which symbolizes that all his efforts in life are for her sake. She in turn lives vicariously through his achievements.
On top of his job, William works as a tutor and schools his pupils at home. He is an extremely impatient teacher, however, and rages when his students make mistakes. As he grows into a man, William remains close to his mother. They flirt playfully together, and William teases Mrs. Morel about the job she has done sewing up one of his work shirts. She claims that he looks as handsome as King Solomon, but William complains that people will be able to see through all the patches.
William inherits his father’s volatile temper and struggles to control his emotions. William and Mrs. Morel enjoy each other’s company and show this through their playful teasing.
William grows into an ambitious young man. He gets to know all the wealthy people in the town and socializes often at dances and billiard games. He has many girlfriends, whom he compares to flowers and describes to his younger brother Paul, whom he nicknames “Postle.” Mrs. Morel disapproves of these girls and sends one away, believing she is a “brazen hussy,” when she comes to the house looking for William. She dislikes William’s social life and the fact that he loves dancing. At Halloween, when William buys a costume and dresses up as a Highlander, Mrs. Morel refuses to see him in it and, unknowingly, hurts her son’s feelings. Although he carries on with his night and has fun, William had been most excited about showing the costume to his mother.
William describes his girlfriends as flowers because he finds them beautiful and decorative. However, he does not connect with any of them as people and, therefore, is careless about their feelings and forgets that he hurts them when he leads them on. Paul’s nickname “Postle” again aligns him with the figure of St. Paul the Apostle, who was blinded on the road to Damascus and who became celibate and discouraged marriage. Mrs. Morel is jealous of William’s girlfriends because they compete with her for his affections.
As William grows up, Mrs. Morel begins to worry about him and wonder if he will be as successful as she has hoped. She frets about this a lot because her hopes and dreams are tied up in her son’s future and her belief that he will become a great man. William begins to study languages and loses some of his youthful vigor. Although he is pursued by many girls, he never has a real relationship and, by nineteen, he has become quite a serious young man and seems to be growing restless in the town. Finally, he accepts a job in London and prepares to leave home.
Mrs. Morel has no professional ambitions of her own, because the rest of her life will be spent as a wife and a mother, but she longs to make her mark on the world and hopes to do this through the activity of her son, who has been influenced by her and represents her point of view. She worries that he cannot seem to settle on anything permanent.
Mrs. Morel is devastated by the news of her son’s departure. She loves to take care of him at home, watching him progress into adulthood, and she feels that her whole life is bound up with William’s fate. She conceals her misery from her son, who is bursting with excitement about his new life, and the family spend William’s last day at home together.
Mrs. Morel lives through William and so his departure feels like she is losing a part of herself.
Mrs. Morel bakes him a cake as a leaving present and, while she is cooking, William shows Paul his love letters from all the various women who have fallen for him. William brags that, despite all this attention, he has never yet been tied down. Mrs. Morel warns him that, one day, he will find himself attached to a woman whom he cannot break away from. William dismisses this idea, however, and leaves home the next day.
William comes across as self-absorbed and vain. He has collected women, but not cared for any one of them or for their feelings. He sees them and their letters as tokens of his own success rather than human beings who have developed feelings for him.