Paul is very terse and irritable with Miriam that spring. Although she loves him deeply, she fears for their future and feels that, even if he loved her, her life with him would only be “tragedy, sorrow and sacrifice.” Still, she is prepared for this. One day, Paul comes for lunch at Willey Farm and Miriam can tell that he is in a bitter, mean mood. She takes him outside to show him the daffodils which are springing up there. Paul watches as she kneels over the flowers and kisses them one by one. He bitterly remarks that she is always caressing things and that she cannot leave things alone but must suck the soul out of them.
Miriam is prepared to sacrifice her own happiness to be with Paul. She is very intense, and her emotions are extreme and all-consuming; this is symbolized by the way she kisses the flowers. Paul feels trapped and stifled by the strength of her feelings towards him but cannot explain this to her because he does not fully understand it himself.
Miriam is hurt by his words and does not understand them. Paul ignores her through most of the afternoon and then is sulky and bitter when they go for a walk together that night. He would rather be with her brothers, but he cannot bring himself to leave her. Miriam tries to discover what is wrong, but he cannot tell her. As they sit on the hillside together, the farm dog lumbers up to play with Paul and, watching him, Miriam thinks that he wants to be loving but that he does not know how to be; the way he plays with the dog is friendly but rough.
As Paul cannot clearly explain himself to Miriam, she is hurt because he seems to reject her and pursue her at the same time. Paul feels bound to Miriam, even though he doesn’t like this feeling, and he is afraid to hurt her by rejecting her. Miriam recognizes that Paul cannot easily express love and is sometimes cruel when he intends to be loving.
Reluctantly, Paul tells Miriam that he thinks they should not see each other anymore. Miriam assumes that she loves him more than he loves her and wonders if he cannot love her because of something wrong with her. At the same time, however, she feels sorry for him because he seems so conflicted and unsure of what he wants. Paul feels that he hates Miriam and Miriam senses that his family has had some sway over him. She comments on this, but Paul dismisses her and they don’t speak again that evening.
Although Miriam is hurt, she is certain of herself and her feelings for Paul, whereas he is confused and conflicted. This is because he cannot think for himself and is influenced and manipulated by his family (mostly his mother).
Paul is aware that his mother is a driving force in his life and that a strong link still binds him to her. His mother cares about the practical side of life and Paul wants to show her that she is right in this and that he does too. Mrs. Morel hates Miriam, but also hates to see Paul so indecisive and suffering.
Paul wants to prove to his mother that he is on her side against Miriam and decides to reject Miriam’s spiritual worldview in favor of Mrs. Morel’s practical one. Mrs. Morel wishes that Paul would definitively take her side and break up with Miriam.
Paul does not go to see Miriam for a week and, when he finally does go, he spends the afternoon with Mrs. Leivers and Miriam. Paul has dinner with the family, and, during dinner, he complains that the minister butchers his sermons. Paul then demonstrates how he would have taught a certain passage from the Bible and Miriam, watching, feels she loves the “Disciple” in him, who is at war with “the man.”
Miriam believes that Paul is torn between the intellectual and the physical aspects of his personality. This reference to Paul the “Disciple” again aligns Paul with St. Paul the Apostle, and suggests that, in Miriam’s eyes, Paul could be a deeply spiritual person if he rejected the material world.
After dinner, Paul and Miriam return to the same spot on the hillside and Paul again tells Miriam that they must break things off if they do not plan to marry. Paul is adamant this time and Miriam agrees that he should not come to teach her French anymore. Although she loves him, she seems calm and resigned and it is Paul who seems to suffer and be ripped apart by the conflict. Mrs. Leivers is surprised when Paul leaves early that evening.
Paul suggests that it is improper for him and Miriam to spend time together if they do not intend to marry. Miriam is confident in her love for Paul and this gives her strength. Paul is indecisive and tormented because he does not know what he wants, and all the responsibility for the choice rests on him.
Paul rides home, very distressed after the evening’s events, and does not care if he falls and kills himself. He has been convinced by his mother that it is unfair to keep seeing Miriam if he does not plan to make her his wife, but he finds that he cannot stay away from the farm. He spends a lot of time with Edgar and loves the family, but he tries to avoid being alone with Miriam when he is there. Miriam waits for him, anticipating the chance for them to be alone.
Paul is so conflicted that he becomes self-destructive and would possibly hurt himself without realizing that this is his intention. It is Mrs. Morel who reminds Paul of the impropriety of his situation; young couples who spent a lot of time together were expected to get married.
Finally, he is drawn back under her influence. They discuss religion together on their way back from church because Paul needs someone else to approve his opinions before he can believe in them himself and Miriam provides this for him. She believes that he needs her, but she finds that their relationship is strained and that there is an awkwardness between them, which makes her unhappy. When Paul reads to her from the Bible, he leaves out a passage about childbirth.
Although Paul tries to cut himself off from Miriam, there is an intellectual side to him that cannot be fulfilled by the other people in his life. Unlike Miriam, Paul cannot come to his own conclusions about things and needs her to figure out his philosophical ideas. Paul leaves out a passage about childbirth because it indirectly refers to sex.
Miriam can see that Paul is unhappy and that he yearns for something else. She has noticed that he becomes agitated when she mentions Clara Dawes and so, to allow Paul to “test himself,” she invites him to come to the house when Clara is there. Paul finds Clara very impressive and feels that she eclipses everything around her. He arrives early to the farm and Miriam is upset; she knows he has come early because he is excited to meet Clara.
Miriam manipulates Paul to test his loyalty to her and see if he can be easily tempted away from her by another woman that he is physically attracted to. Although she orchestrates this, Miriam still feels jealous when Paul is obviously attracted to Clara.
Paul is very courteous to Clara – much to Miriam’s chagrin – and asks her if she has been to “Margaret Bondfield’s meeting.” Clara says she has, and Paul says that he finds Margaret Bondfield “lovable.” Clara is contemptuous of this and sarcastically replies that “this is all that matters.” Paul admits that Margaret Bondfield is clever, but Clara remains disdainful of his opinions and scoffs when Paul says that Margaret Bondfield would be happy to “darn” her husband’s socks.
Margaret Bondfield was a women’s rights activist. Paul is patronizing towards Clara and she recognizes this. She sarcastically suggests that men only want women to be lovable and pliable, rather than stand up for themselves. Paul misogynistically insinuates that, despite Margaret Bondfield’s fierce reputation as an activist and public speaker, she would be happier at home fulfilling typical feminine duties, such as caring for her husband.
Eventually, tiring of Clara’s contempt, Paul goes out to meet Edgar, who is at work on the farm. Edgar is pleased to see Paul and Paul helps Edgar unload coal. Paul makes a joke about Clara and Edgar asks if Paul thinks she is a “man hater.” Paul says no, but that she thinks she is. The two lads go inside for tea and, over dinner, they talk about women’s rights and whether men and women should be paid equally for their work. Clara argues that they should, but Paul disagrees with her.
Paul gets irritated with Clara because she does not seem to like him. However, Paul has not earned Clara’s respect but has instead tried to bait her into an argument and undermined her political views. He writes off her interest in women’s rights as self-delusion because he thinks that she is simply bitter about her marriage breaking down.
Paul complains that men are paid more because they support families and he complains that Clara sounds like a suffragette. He resents being generalized about and thinks that men are blamed for everything in modern society. Mr. Leivers, however, agrees with Clara. After dinner, Mrs. Leivers asks Clara if she is happier without her husband, and Clara says that she is always happy if she is “free and independent.”
Paul does not consider Clara’s point of view on women’s work. Although men support their families in this period, women are financially reliant on their husbands and this leaves them with little power in marriage. If a husband refuses to give his wife housekeeping money, she has no reliable way of finding it elsewhere. Paul’s perspective here is undermined by the reality of his mother’s situation and his own tendency to blame the women around him for his own negative emotions.
After dinner, Miriam, Paul, and Clara go for a walk together. Looking around the beautiful evening in the country, Paul talks about chivalry and how pleasant it would be to be a knight and fight for fair maidens. Clara is not amused by this and suggests it is better to help women “fight for themselves.” Paul disagrees and says that a woman who fights for herself is like a “mad dog barking at a looking glass.” Although Paul thinks he is being witty and entertaining, he realizes that Clara is miserable.
Paul continues to bait Clara. He invokes chivalry because he knows that it is an idea based on the assumption that women are generally helpless and grateful to be rescued. Paul is very offensive to Clara and suggests that she, and other women who support suffrage, create these problems themselves and then blame men. Clara is miserable because she feels misunderstood and attacked.
On the way to Strelley Mill, they meet Limb, the farmer who lives there, and he shows them a spot where the Leivers’s horse has smashed his fence. They walk with him towards the Mill, meaning to go on past it to the pond, and they meet Limb’s sister, who lives with him, as she comes out to greet her brother. She has brought an apple for the stallion Limb rides and kisses and speaks tenderly to the horse. Clara and Miriam admire the horse, too, and Clara suggests darkly that the horse is likely “more loving than any man.”
The horse symbolizes masculinity, and the women are attracted to this. Lawrence suggests that Paul is wrong about Miriam and Clara, who he thinks are both frigid and “man haters”; they do not hate men, but rather the type of masculinity that Paul embodies, which dismisses their perspective and fails to understand them.
They talk for a few minutes with the woman, who seems intense and grateful for someone to talk to. As they walk away, Paul and Miriam agree that she unnerves them and that she is going mad with loneliness because she lives in such a secluded spot. Clara sarcastically implies that she must “need a man” and walks ahead. Paul wonders what is wrong with Clara and begins to feel sorry for her. He forgets Miriam, who is talking beside him, and Miriam notices this and feels hurt.
Paul thinks that women will go mad without a man, but Clara feels she is better off without one. Essentially Paul is very obtuse and thoughtless here. He does not see that Clara has been hurt by her husband and is angry about the way she has been treated. Meanwhile, he is also totally oblivious to Miriam’s feelings.
They stop to admire a beautiful field full of flowers and Paul tries to offer some that he has picked to Clara. Clara refuses and says that she does not want to be given dead things; the flowers should be left alone. Paul disagrees and, when Clara stoops down to smell them, he drops the bunch of flowers over her head and says a prayer as though it is a funeral. Clara is confused and walks on without him.
Flowers represent Clara’s attitude towards sex and sensuality. She has been hurt in her relationship and this has caused her interest in sex and love to die; this also causes her to see the flowers as only “dead things” rather than signs of life. Paul unconsciously understands this, and it makes him think of a funeral.
Not long after this, Paul goes to Lincoln on the train with Mrs. Morel. He is excited to show her the cathedral from the train window but, as he does so, he feels that she is drifting away from him and her stoic, resigned expression reminds him of the ancient and enduring cathedral. They eat at an expensive restaurant, which Mrs. Morel disapproves of, but Paul insists upon it because he is taking “his girl” out. They are very merry and playful with each other as they take in the sights.
Paul is dismayed because he realizes that his mother is growing old. He relies on her for everything and she is the most important woman in his life. His realization upsets him because he is aware that he will one day have to live without her, and has no idea how to do that.
As they walk up the hill to the cathedral, however, Mrs. Morel struggles for breath and Paul takes her into a bar to sit down. Once she has recovered, they go on to the cathedral and Mrs. Morel is delighted with the view. Paul, however, is moody and depressed. He rebukes his mother for being old and complains bitterly that he wishes he could have a young mother so that she could easily come on outings with him. Mrs. Morel is quiet and sad after this, but the two cheer up when they go to tea by the river and see the boats go past.
Paul subconsciously seems to wish that Mrs. Morel was not his mother but his wife. He wants to experience the world with her and does not really want to find another woman to do this with. Mrs. Morel feels similarly and is sad because she feels that she lets her son down, even though she cannot help aging.
Over tea, Paul tells Mrs. Morel about Clara Dawes. He explains that Clara lives with her mother, who is a lace maker, and that Clara is older than him; in her early thirties. Mrs. Morel listens but is unsure; she wishes Paul could find a “nice woman.”
Although Mrs. Morel thinks she wants Paul to find a “nice woman,” it is unlikely that any woman would actually be good enough for Paul in her eyes.
Annie and Leonard get married soon after this, and Arthur travels up for the wedding. Mrs. Morel is sad to see her daughter leave home, but she likes Leonard and is glad he has a steady job. That night, after Annie and Leonard have left, Paul and Mrs. Morel stay up to talk. Mrs. Morel is slightly hurt that Annie has left home, although she knows that this is silly. Paul, hearing this, vows never to get married. Instead, he says, he will live with his mother and they will hire a maid to care for her.
There is no Oedipal connection between Annie and Mrs. Morel because they are both women who are attracted to men. It is implied that Mrs. Morel has transferred her attraction to her husband onto her sons, although she is not conscious of doing this. Therefore, her reaction to Annie leaving home is much less intense. Paul completely discards Mr. Morel altogether and almost fills his father’s role by suggesting that he and Mrs. Morel will grow old together.
Mrs. Morel dismisses this and tells him that he will marry when he finds the right girl. Paul dislikes this idea and says that, if he does get married, his wife will have to accept that he will always put his mother first. Mrs. Morel sends Paul to bed, but she stays up and thinks about her children. She is worried about Arthur. Although the army has disciplined him, he hates the regimented lifestyle and misses his freedom. Mrs. Morel decides to use her money to pay his way out of the regiment and Arthur moves home and begins to spend a lot of time with Beatrice.
It is unlikely that any woman will be happy to do this, which suggests that Paul will never find a woman to marry while his mother is alive.
One night, Arthur and Beatrice tussle playfully over a comb, which Arthur has plucked from her hair, and, when Beatrice gets it back, she turns around and slaps his face. Arthur is hurt by this and Beatrice leaves the room to cry. When she comes back, however, they make up and kiss each other and, from that moment on, belong to each other and are a couple.
Arthur and Beatrice’s playfight escalates into a real fight because they have developed romantic feelings for each other. While Arthur treats Beatrice playfully, like a sister, Beatrice reacts angrily because she wants him to take her seriously as a lover. They both realize this at the same time and their relationship transitions smoothly.
Soon Paul is the only child left at home and he remains torn between Miriam and Clara, whom he likes for different reasons. One evening, on one of his walks with Miriam, Paul pours out his soul to her and Miriam goes home satisfied, feeling confident in their relationship. However, the next day, Clara comes to the farm and Paul ignores Miriam and jumps haystacks with Clara, who is very physical and strong, and whom Paul enjoys teasing.
Paul has not moved on and cannot progress with either woman. He is stuck because he does not understand himself and does not know what he wants from a relationship. Miriam represents Paul’s soul and intellectual nature, whereas Clara symbolizes his practical, physical side. He is unable to unite the two.
Miriam is horrified as she watches this and thinks that she may lose the fight for Paul’s affections; he may choose “lesser” over “higher” things. The next time they go out walking, Paul complains that God is not “soulful” and that he is in everything, but Miriam thinks he is making excuses to have his own way.
Paul wants to unite body and soul and have a relationship in which he is both intellectually and physically compatible with his lover. He thinks that the physical world can also be divine. Miriam, who is very religious, does not believe that this is true.
Paul writes Miriam a letter for her twenty first birthday in which he says that she is a “nun” and that, although she is very important to him, they cannot marry because they cannot be ordinary together. Paul writes that he might one day marry someone else; someone he can be “trivial” with.
This is a very inconsiderate birthday present. Although Miriam is religious, she is physically attracted to Paul and, although she is afraid of sex, Paul has never given her the opportunity to explore a physical relationship. Instead, he dismisses her as too pure for this.
Miriam is deeply hurt by his letter. She writes back to say that they could have had a beautiful love affair, if it were not for one small misunderstanding. Paul sends her another letter, which vaguely admits that he has treated her cruelly and that he has wrestled with himself over it. Their relationship grinds to a halt and Paul turns all his physical attraction on Clara Dawes. Miriam, however, remains convinced that, in his soul, Paul belongs with her.
Paul misunderstands Miriam because he believes she will not have sex with him. Miriam is attracted to Paul, but she is afraid and feels that she will have to compromise her beliefs to have sex before marriage. She is willing to do this for Paul, however, but he does not want her on these terms.