#4: Just About Everyone in Sons and Lovers
It might be a bit hyperbolic to say everyone in D.H. Lawrence’s breakout novel is involved in unhealthy relationships—but just a bit.
To this point, we’ve pretty much been discussing unhealthy relationships of the romantic variety, but there plenty of paternal or platonic relationship types, all of which may sour as well.
Lawrence’s novel centers on the Morels, a working-class family in Northern England. Mr. Morel has a violent temper—to say the least—and sadly, like Othello, he acts on it, abusing Mrs. Morel, verbally and otherwise, after which he feels remorse and attempts to apologize with presents.
This happens repeatedly—and this is as big a red flag as there is as far as unhealthy relationships go. Abuse—especially physical abuse—shouldn’t have to be tolerated in a relationship even once. Repeatedly? That’s a relationship that needs to end.
All too often trying to “make up for it” or insisting, as Mr. Morel does, that the abuser “really loves” the abused party causes the latter to stay, with disastrous results. If you happen to be in an abusive relationship, or feel afraid and unsure of what to do, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for help.
Then there’s our protagonist Paul, his brother William, and all the unhealthy relationships they enter into. Paul is a real “momma’s boy” in the sense that he and his mother have an incredibly close bond, one that is both a great strength and tragic obstacle in both their happiness.
No woman ever seems fully satisfactory for Mrs. Morel when it comes to her Paul and his brother, William—not William’s spendthrift wife, not Paul’s first love Miriam, and not his second crush, Clara. Paul is constantly trying to forge a connection with first Miriam and then Clara, and being a young man (and a D.H. Lawrence character) he naturally thinks sex is the way to do it. He pressures Miriam physically, and clashes with Clara’s feminist beliefs—all while constantly falling back on his mother meaning, after her death, Paul is left alone.
This is one of modern literature’s great unhealthy parental relationships, and it’s between a son and mother—and a loving one at that.
From a parenting perspective, Mrs. Morel is too controlling and certainly too unwilling to let her sons grow up and leave her, in part because she lives vicariously through them as a result of her own failed marriage.
Paul, in turn, wants to be a good boyfriend to first Miriam and then Clara, but he’s too forceful with the former, not able to fully connect with the latter, and on the whole suffers from having an overly-involved mother, one who’s simultaneously supportive of him yet always interjecting herself and disapproving of her potential girlfriends.
Even in the best of parent/child relationships, boundaries are key, lest unhealthy relationships arise, as they do with Paul and Mrs. Morel.