Explore the relationship between Paul Morel and his mother

“The texture of Paul’s relationship with his mother is one of an intimacy so close that the only adequate means of expression are sexual, but its structure is throughout one of social aspiration.” John Goode1

It is clearly evident throughout the novel that the relationship Paul and his mother have is not one of any other normal son and mother relationship. It is far too close and suffocating to be portrayed as ‘normal’; yet as John Goode has said above, it is a relationship full of social aspiration. Mrs. Morel is determined for her son to be a social success and Paul sees his mother as the one to raise him above the level of the ‘coal-pits’. She has the power, intellect and ruthless direction.

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Mrs. Morel, a ‘Puritan’, tries to refine and elevate her husband; when she fails she starts to despise him and tries again, first with William and then with Paul. She is a woman of immense strength of character, determination and emotion. Having failed to maintain a healthy and happy relationship with her husband she attempts to regain much of the love she has been deprived of through her sons. Paul proves an easy target for her domination:

“…Paul, always rather delicate and quiet, got slimmer, and trotted after his mother like her shadow.”

Initially, Mrs. Morel regrets the coming of her third child, she does not believe she will be able to cope. She feels discontent with her whole life in general. Without the prospect of happiness she does not want to bear the burden of another child whilst coping with a hated, drunken husband. Mrs. Morel is sick of coping with this constant struggle with poverty and she does not want a third child to be brought into this situation:

“She could not afford to have this third. She did not want it. The father…was swilling himself drunk. She despised him, and was tied to him. This coming child was too much for her.”

Despite these initial feelings towards her unborn Mrs. Morel feels tranquillity with it that she does not feel with her husband:

“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…”

This is a very spiritual moment where the intimacy of nature heightens her feelings and emotions; and she seems to find peace in the sensation of the unborn child. This is the first indication of the special bond between mother and son. Ironically, it is Morel’s drunken behaviour, which forces his wife with her unborn into the garden, to form their special bond, which unites them against him.

Due to having brought the baby into such a loveless and poverty- stricken marriage; Mrs. Morel decides that she will love this baby even more to make up for the guilt. She invests a lot of hopes and dreams in Paul, because of the lack of fulfilment with her husband:

“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.”

From a very young age Paul develops a fixation on his mother and she ultimately feels his dependency. That he should please her and make her happy is his continuous childish aim. Her approval means the world to him, and it goes to the extent that her disapproval is life – shattering; thus, indicating that this is not a healthy relationship they have together. Mrs. Morel is not giving her son room to develop his own character; he seems to be living his life through his mother:

“When she fretted he understood, and could have no peace. His soul seemed always attentive to her.”

Mrs. Morel and Paul’s relationship has been seen by many to be overtly Oedipal. Paul, and William to some extent, love their mother in a way that certainly includes a sexual element. Paul often kisses his mother and talks to her as a lover; at one point he tries to persuade his mother not to sleep in the same bed as his father. She refuses to sleep elsewhere than in her own room and when Paul escorts her upstairs he kisses her ‘close’ and goes to bed in a fury of what must be jealousy:

“Sleep with Annie, mother, not with him”

Throughout Paul’s later years the bond between mother and son fails to lessen and if anything grows in strength. Mrs. Morel continues to cling to Paul and he as a result of this is still dependent on her. Her immense hold over Paul prevents him from achieving any personal growth and prohibits his development as a real person:

“And he, with all his soul’s intensity directing his pencil, could feel her warmth inside him like strength…From his mother he drew the life warmth, the strength to produce…”

On the brink of death, Paul is given a strange almost passionate strength by his mother’s constant presence next to his bedside. This is shortly after William’s death when Mrs. Morel becomes Paul’s nurse. It is clearly suggested by the language Lawrence uses that Paul and Mrs. Morel have something much deeper than a mother and son relationship. It is almost as if Paul is given this amazing strength because he does not want to leave his ‘lover’:

“The two knitted together in perfect intimacy. Mrs. Morel’s life now rooted itself in Paul.”

Paul’s first attempt at a relationship away from his mother is with Miriam Leivers. He becomes a favourite with the Leivers family and through them comes to experience life close to nature. Paul teaches Miriam algebra and French with a mixture of patience and bad temper. Miriam adores Paul for his supposed intellectuality. Their relationship is concerned with books, flowers and going to chapel. It is clearly evident that Mrs. Morel disapproves of this relationship, she does not like Miriam. She sees her as competition, she does not want to share Paul with anyone, she wants him all to herself; and the fact that Miriam is intellectually equal to Mrs. Morel makes her all the more jealous:

“She could feel Paul being drawn away by this girl. And she did not care for Miriam..’.She wants to draw him out and absorb him till there is nothing left of him, even for himself.”

Paul is uncertain about his girlfriend and hardly knows whether she irritates him or whether he loves her. A huge barrier of ‘purity’ is between them and it seems impossible that they will ever love physically. We sense Paul’s frustration increasing as he continues his relationship with this soulful and awkward girl. Lance St John Butler2 says of the relationship:

” All their activities together as ‘Lad-and-girl’ rest uncomfortably on Miriam’s sexlessness.” Even when Paul tries to teach her algebra, and becomes angry when she is slow at understanding, his anger has a sexual quality that implies the frustration of the relationship:

“He had been too fast. But he said nothing. He questioned her more, then got hot. It made his blood rouse to see her there, as it were, at his mercy, her mouth open, her eyes dilated with laughter that was afraid…”

Paul becomes increasingly irritated by Miriam due to a number of reasons. He cannot handle the sexlessness in the relationship, yet it is also the fact that his mother dislikes Miriam, he detests it when his mother is unhappy. However, it could also be as Daniel Weiss 3 says:

“It is for the first time in his life he is facing a mature relationship between himself and another woman, not his mother, and that a different mode of love is being demanded from him.”

This ‘different mode of love’ he seems unable to give because he has only ever loved his mother and regardless of who he is with; he still belongs heart and soul to her.

Mrs. Morel clearly conveys her deep disliking of Miriam in her attitude when he returns from visiting Leivers farm. As she tries desperately to cling to Paul she sulks like a spoilt child and speaks to him an angry manner, which she knows will succeed in upsetting him. She develops this further by deliberately being rude to Miriam when she visits. When the three of them are together the atmosphere is ‘close and tight’ and Mrs. Morel sits in jealousy and full of hatred for Miriam:

“Mrs. Morel sat jealously in her own chair.”

To please his mother Paul refrains from visiting the Leivers Farm hoping to win back her favour. He finds it extremely difficult to maintain his relationship with Miriam due to his mother’s disapproval. His mothers disapproval causes him to feel tortured inside and in his confused state of mind he takes his anger out on Miriam:

“..We aren’t lovers, we are friends,” he said to her. “We know it. Let them talk. What does it matter what they say.”

Paul therefore rejects Miriam for his mother but by rejecting Miriam he is unconsciously rejecting his mother in her, in what he feels to be Miriam’s stifling, spiritual possessiveness.

Clara is Paul’s next attempt at love. From the first moment that we see her Clara is presented as a physical being, in opposition to Miriam, and as extremely sexual. Clara is passion where Miriam is frigidity. Paul is attracted to this passion. He himself is intensely physical, as even Miriam recognises, and he becomes fascinated by Clara’s heavy body, her ‘sulky abandon’:

“Clara began to work…He, not knowing, watched her all the time.”

Driven on by his feelings Paul first tries to develop a sexual relationship with Miriam, this is not successful but in the attempt Paul does learn ‘the great hunger and impersonality of passion’, this frightens Miriam who wants Paul to be hers, but he cannot be because ‘she took all and gave nothing…she gave no living warmth’. Where as when Paul turns to Clara for ‘Passion’, their successful relationship comes as a sort of cure for his soul that has been wounded by unsatisfied desire.

Just as Paul’s relationship with Miriam seemed to be entirely on an intellectual level; with Clara it seems purely sexual. He cannot seem to strike the perfect balance in a relationship. Even with his mother he has only an intellectual and spiritual relationship, therefore he needs a sexual side. Mrs. Morel understands Paul needs to satisfy his sexual needs, which is why she does not feel threatened by Clara. She knows that Clara does not have the intellect of Miriam or herself; which is why she is not jealous, she accepts it:

“Mrs. Morel felt perfectly at her ease….Clara..was glad to be on such good terms with his mother.”

It is clear throughout the novel that the deepest of Paul’s love belongs to his mother. When he feels he has hurt her he cannot bear it. The only life Paul has apart from his mother is his sexual one. By the end of the novel he finds it extremely difficult to be a ‘Son and a lover’, discovering at last that he must choose between his mother and his female sexual partners. Whilst his mother is alive he grows up to be the man ‘Morel’ unable to sustain a fulfilling relationship with a woman:

“…His life wanted to free itself of her. It was like a circle where life turned back on itself, and got no farther. She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go on with his own life…”

Paul’s growth in understanding and his realisation of the importance of the human relationship, is shown in his sympathy for Dawes, in his understanding of the basic relationship between his mother and father, and in his final reconciliation of Clara and her husband. “But it seems for Miriam nothing can be done”- Louis L.Martz4 as is shown in the last, sad meeting they have, after his mother’s death:

“..Her bloom of youth had quickly gone. A sort of stiffness… had come upon her”

Paul knows what he has done to her, but he cannot help her, for she no longer attracts him. His mother’s influence has restrained the vitality in Miriam that once drew them together. Inevitably, he rejects her proposal with his mother’s reasoning:

“But you love me so much, you want to put me in your pocket. And I should die there smothered”

By the end of the novel there remains in Paul his mother’s tough, determined will; damaged as he is, “he would not give in”. Whatever happens to others, he will survive: his mother’s will drives him on. His growth in self-knowledge offers a better hope. Paul has managed to take everything from his mother that he needs; this will last forever. And from this moment on, every success he has will be his own not due to his mother:

“Turning sharply, he walked towards the city’s gold phosphorescence. His fists were shut, his mouth set fast…He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.”

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