D. H. Lawrence makes extensive use of symbols in his famous novel Sons and Lovers. Symbolism means putting a remark or a situation or an incident or an object or even a person with a double significance or a two-fold meaning. One meaning lies on the very surface and is easily understood by the reader. On the other hand, another or symbolic meaning is hidden in the writing and becomes known to the reader only after a good deal of thought. D. H. Lawrence probes deep into the consciousness of his characters with clever use of symbols. A proper understanding of these symbols leads to a better understanding of the novel and arises appreciation from the reader. Symbolism is an essential feature of Lawrence’s art.
For a better understanding of Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers”, the understanding of the symbols used is a must. Lawrence used his symbols for no mystical effect, but for the production of a better biological and psychological effect. Some of his symbols throw light upon his perception oh human relationships. Lawrence is none like the French symbolist, but as a typical modern writer, he capitalized to the full all the potentialities of his symbols.
The ash-tree is symbolic of the dark, sinister and mysterious forces of nature which are the foreboders of tragedy in human life. It is symbolic of the disharmony between Mr. and Mrs. Morel and of its unhealthy effects on their children. The ash-tree symbolizes the inner terror of children who shriek and moan inwardly. It also prophesizes the future doom which is to beset the Morel family. The peeking of the hens at the hands of Paul and Miriam is also symbolic. It stands for the sexually thwarted relationship that Miriam is going to have with Paul. Her sexual inhabitation is emphasized here. In spite of Paul’s persistence that it does not hurt but only nips, Miriam is afraid to let the hen peck at her hand. This scene symbolically forecasts the disastrous failure that Miriam is going
to face in attaining sexual fulfillment with Paul.
The swing at Willey Farm is symbolic of the love-hate relationship that is characteristic of Paul-Miriam relationship. Similar to the backward and forward movement of the swing, Paul loves Miriam for one thing but suddenly hates her form another. His hatred for her is transitory only to be replaced soon with love. The movement of the swing symbolizes the two extremes of their attitude towards each other i.e. love for one moment and hate for the other moment. It is also symbolic of their inability to hold on to each for a very long time. Miriam’s inability to attain a certain height on the swing as Paul does is significant in her sexual frigidity. As on the swing she fails to attain the sexual heights in her physical relationship with Paul and performs it as a religious duty. Thus, she fails to provide Paul with the physical fulfillment that he was desirous of.
Lawrence used the flowers as a major symbol in the novel. The general attitude of the various characters towards flowers symbolize their attitude towards life. Paul loves flowers but respects their “otherness” establishing them as existences in their own right. He always shares and respects life in the flowers without trying to destroy it. In Mrs. Morel’s attitude towards flowers, there is a vitality, healthy glow of life, a flame of animation. Miriam’s relationship to flowers is that of a blasphemous possessorship who wheedles the soul out of things- whether it’s flowers or Paul. If the flowers are the flowers of life for Paul, they are the rootless flowers of death for Miriam. The floral scene where the lovers pick flowers is highly symbolical. Miriam picks flowers with false reverence; Paul with love, like a lover; and Clara does not pick them at all. But at least she respects the ‘life’ in them, and later when she is fully ‘awakened’ by Paul, she will pick them, and the flowers, in their turn, will defend her.
The death of Mrs. Morel is also presented symbolically. The scenes depicting her last agonized weeks make us feel that a real woman is dying and dying in a particularly painful and ugly way. The fact that Paul is directly responsible for Mrs. Morel’s death can also be interpreted symbolically. Paul must take the initiative and kill his mother before he can be a man. His mother’s death appears to be a release to Paul. Through death, he is released from the bondage in which he has been kept by her throughout her life. Her death is as difficult as to bear as her protracted illness, but Paul is finally free, free to shape his own destiny all by himself. But ironically enough though Paul is literally free from his mother’s hold, her hold on Paul has even been strengthened through her death. Besides, the release may not imply freedom; it may even imply drifting.
Clara functions as a symbol in the novel. Her blonde Junoesque beauty brings an element into the story that is needed for this ripe woman is an effective foil to take the aging mother and the dreaming farm girl. Since she is the tempting Eve and is present in the novel to depict the necessity of sex angle, she has all assets of a bewitching female. Paul is attracted by her white, honey-like skin, full month, the firmness and softness of her upright body. Her sexual impact makes Paul clinch his fists and we read that “her beauty was a torture to him”. Anyway, her sleeping beauty brings an element of sensuality in the story. She is also gifted with passion and sensuousness. That is why Paul finds her provocative. She seems to understand Paul’s need and offers her immensity of passion. The character of Clara has been designed to make her a polar opposite of Miriam. Miriam is spirit, Clara flesh. But the moral drawn is that as never the spirit and over possessiveness. So also only the external beauty and passion can’t bring in the proper success in a love relationship all by itself.