Lawrence uses nature and the natural world to represent the inner lives of the characters throughout Sons and Lovers, suggesting that human beings are not separate from the natural world but rather extensions of it. Lawrence indicates that the closer and more harmonious the relationship between humans and the natural world, the happier and more fulfilling human lives will be. The further the characters travel from the natural world, the more unstable and unhappy their lives become, as the links between humans and their environment are weakened by processes such as industrialism, mass production, and the materialism of modernity.
Nature is a source of beauty, inspiration, hope, and human connection in the novel. The characters in Sons and Lovers are depicted as being at their best when they are surrounded by nature which has not been interfered with by the modern world. For example, after Mrs. Morel has a huge fight with her husband and has been locked out of the house, she comforts herself by looking at the moon and by smelling the flowers that are growing nearby. This suggests that harmony with nature brings harmony within oneself and, after this moment of calm, Mrs. Morel is able to return to her house and persuade her husband to let her back in, thereby making an attempt to heal the rift between them. Another example of nature’s role in human connection shows up in Paul’s sexual relationships with Miriam and with Clara. Both begin in nature: in the woods with Miriam, and on the riverbank with Clara. What’s more, Paul grows up surrounded by nature and is very sensitive and attuned to his environment. This leads him to his career as a painter, as he draws inspiration from the beauty of the natural world. Nature, therefore, is associated with self-expression. The fact that Paul’s self-expression as a painter comes in the form of pictures of natural scenes suggests that to express oneself is also to express the natural world, again emphasizing that humans are part of nature and the environment.
Some industrial practices, such as mining, are still closely linked to nature in the novel, even though they represent human interference with the natural world. Although mining is an industrial process and relies on technology and machines, mining is still associated with nature because it is a process which extracts natural resources, and which relies on the land rather than producing something external to the natural world. The mining communities which the Morels are part of, and which are similar to the one that Lawrence himself grew up in, are totally reliant on natural resources for their own survival. For the miners and mining communities, life is dependent on nature and on natural ecosystems, even if the result of this process is ugliness and pollution. The miners, like Mr. Morel, are also shaped by their environment, in the same way that Paul is shaped into an artist by his contact with nature. Mr. Morel prefers to sit in darkness even in the daytime because he is so used to operating in the natural darkness of the mine. Similarly, the bodies of the miners, which grow gradually hunched over time from crouching in the pits, reflect the idea that people’s external environments play large roles in their internal lives.
Finally, those furthest from nature in the novel are people who live in the cities and who work in manufacturing, and these people generally end up alienated and unhappy. For example, Paul and William both leave the mining town and get jobs in the city. William takes a job in London, and Paul gets a job closer to home, in Nottingham. Both contract pneumonia because of the long hours, pollution, and poor working conditions in the cities, and William’s death is ultimately associated with his rejection of nature in favor of a materialistic and modern lifestyle. Paul, in contrast, maintains his connection to the natural world and the beautiful countryside he grew up around. Therefore, he recovers from his illness and is eventually able to cut down his hours spent in the city.
The contrasting fates of William and Paul reflect both Lawrence’s philosophy—that connection with the natural world is the healthiest and most fulfilling way for people to live—and the real-life conditions in cities in the early twentieth century, in which air pollution, overcrowding, and poor sanitation made for unhygienic and hazardous places to live and work. The novel’s argument about the ills of cities is also reflected in the type of work that Paul does at the factory. Although Paul quite enjoys his job in Nottingham, his life at the factory is described as though he is a cog in a machine, and the manufacture of garments (which he oversees in the factory) is broken down into separate parts undertaken by different individuals. The literal nature of Paul’s work mirrors Lawrence’s belief that modernity and manufacturing jobs alienated people from each other and from their work, unlike the miners who are so defined by their work that they almost become part of the rural landscape. This modern isolation is taken to its logical conclusion through Clara: after she loses her job, she must produce lace alone in her house and is miserable as a result of this alienation from society. Lawrence was deeply opposed to modernity’s interest in materialism and the manufacture of consumer goods, which only increased throughout the twentieth century. He favored a more natural lifestyle in which people had a closer bond with the environment and with natural sources of production. Throughout, the novel argues for Lawrence’s belief that the further humans travel from their connection with nature, the more essentially alienated they become from each other and themselves.
Nature and Industrialism ThemeTracker
Nature and Industrialism Quotes in Sons and Lovers
Gertrude herself was rather contemptuous of dancing: she had not the slightest inclination towards that accomplishment, and had never learned even a Roger de Coverley. She was a puritan, like her father, high-minded, and really stern. Therefore the dusky, golden softness of this man’s sensuous flame of life, that flowed from off his flesh like the flame from a candle, not baffled and gripped into incandescence by thought and spirit as her life was, seemed to her something wonderful, beyond her.
Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time, the child too melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.
His ideas were quaint and fantastic, she brought him judiciously to earth. It was a discussion of the Wedding at Cana.
“When He changed the water into wine at Cana,” he said, “that is a symbol, that the ordinary life, even the blood, of the married husband and wife, which had before been uninspired, like water, became filled with the spirit, and was as wine, because, when love enters, the whole spiritual constitution of a man changes, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and almost his form is altered.”
Mrs. Morel thought to herself: “Yes, poor fellow, his young wife is dead; that is why he makes his love into the Holy Ghost.”
She no longer loved her husband; she had not wanted this child to come, and there it lay in her arms and pulled at her heart. She felt as if the navel string that had connected its frail little body with hers had not been broken. A wave of hot love went over her to the infant. She held it close to her face and breast. With all her force, with all her soul she would make up to it for having brought it into the world unloved. She would love it all the more now it was here, carry it in her love.
She thrust the infant forward to the crimson, throbbing sun, almost with relief. She saw him lift his little fist. Then she put him to her bosom again, ashamed almost of her impulse to give him back again whence he came.
“I will call him ‘Paul’,” she said, suddenly, she knew not why. After a while, she went home. A fine shadow was flung over the deep green meadow, darkening all.
Paul was treated to dazzling descriptions of all kinds of flower-like ladies, most of whom lived like cut blooms in William’s heart, for a brief fortnight.
Then Paul fished out a little spray. He always brought her one spray, the best he could find. “Pretty!” she said, in a curious tone, of a woman accepting a love-token. The boy walked all day, went miles and miles, rather than own himself beaten, and come home to her empty-handed. She never realized this, whilst he was young. She was a woman who waited for her children to grow up. And William occupied her chiefly. But when William went to Nottingham, and was not so much at home, the mother made a companion of Paul. The latter was unconsciously jealous of his brother, and William was jealous of him. At the same time, they were good friends.
Mrs. Morel was one of those naturally exquisite people who can walk in mud without dirtying their shoes. But Paul had to clean them for her. They were kid boots at eight shillings a pair. He however, thought them the most dainty boots in the world, and he cleaned them with as much reverence as if they had been flowers.
William opened his eyes and looked at her. In his gaze was a certain baffled look of misery and fierce appreciation. “Has he made a sight of me?” she asked, laughing down on her lover. “That he has!” said William, smiling. And as he lay he continued to look at her. His eyes never sought hers. He did not want to meet her eyes. He only wanted to look at her, not to come together with her in her gaze. And the fact that he wanted to avoid her was in his eyes like misery.
Paul was in bed for seven weeks. He got up white and fragile. His father had bought him a pot of scarlet and gold tulips. They used to flame in the window, in the March sunshine, as he sat on the sofa chattering to his mother. The two knitted together in perfect intimacy. Mrs. Morel’s life now rooted itself in Paul.
They were both brown-eyed and inclined to be mystical, such women as treasure religion inside them, breathe it in their nostrils, and see the whole of life in a mist thereof. So, to Miriam Christ and God made one great figure, which she loved tremblingly and passionately when a tremendous sunset burned out the western sky; and Ediths and Lucys and Rowenas, Brian de Bois Guilberts, Rob Roys and Guy Mannerings rustled the sunny leaves in the morning, or sat in her bedroom, aloft, alone, when it snowed. That was life to her.
She wanted to show him a certain wild-rose bush she had discovered. She knew it was wonderful. And yet, till he had seen it, she felt it had not come into her soul. Only he could make it her own, immortal … By the time they came to the pine-trees Miriam was getting very eager, and very tense. Her bush might be gone. She might not be able to find it. And she wanted it so much. Almost passionately, she wanted to be with him when she stood before the flowers. They were going to have a communion together, something that thrilled her, something holy.
Spring was the worst time. He was changeable and intense and cruel. So he decided to stay away from her. Then came the hours when he knew Miriam was expecting him. His mother watched him growing restless. He could not go on with his work. He could do nothing. It was as if something were drawing his soul out, towards Willey Farm. Then he put on his hat and went, saying nothing. And his mother knew he was gone. And as soon as he was on the way, he sighed with relief. And when he was with her, he was cruel again.
He had a life apart from her—his sexual life. The rest she still kept. But he felt he had to conceal something from her, and it irked him. There was a certain silence between them, and he felt he had, in that silence, to defend himself against her. He felt condemned by her. Then sometimes he hated her, and pulled at her bondage. His life wanted to free itself of her. It was like a circle where life turned back on itself, and got no further. She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman.