Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6

Chapter IV Summary:

Paul, small like his mother, is mature and sensitive. Annie is very attached to him. After he accidentally jumps on a doll of hers, he decides to burn the doll in a "sacrifice." The sacrifice disturbs Annie, who says nothing. Among the children, Paul hates Morel the most. One day, Paul watches with the rest of the family as Morel and William nearly engage in a fistfight. Mrs. Morel stops the fight, to William and the other children's dismay.

The family had moved to a house on the top of the hill while William was growing up. Morel liked the house, but the vast, windy space in front of the house terrified the children, especially at night. As a boy, Paul hated his father and would often pray for his death. The family would wait anxiously to eat dinner for Morel, who would stop to drink before coming home. Morel was completely locked out of family affairs. His bad temper was occasionally interrupted by periods of cheerfulness, often occurring when he did handiwork. Paul was susceptible to bronchitis, and his mother never expected him to live. While sick, he would sleep in bed with his mother and recuperate. Still, Mrs. Morel was preoccupied with William.

When William leaves for Nottingham, Mrs. Morel turns her attention to Paul; the two brothers are jealous of each other but remained close. On Fridays, Paul collects his father's earnings from the crowded offices on Greenhill Lane. Though it is a nerve-racking experience for him, his mother calms him down afterward. He loves reuniting with her after she has gone shopping, as he does one day when she buys a dish with cornflowers on it. The children play games with neighborhood friends.

William, Mrs. Morel's "knight," is returning from London for five days over Christmas. The family prepares with food and decorations. On Christmas Eve, his train is late, but William eventually arrives to a joyful homecoming. He gives them presents and delicacies. When he leaves, everyone is miserable. When he has the opportunity to go to the Mediterranean over the summer, even with his mother's blessing, he decides to go home for his vacation.


Paul's burning of the doll is similar to William's burning his love-letters‹except that William had real girls he was sacrificing as he moved to London, whereas Paul sacrifices the doll out of guilt for jumping on it. However, Paul's action may shed some light on William's; perhaps William felt guilty for dallying with women and making his mother jealous, and burning the letters was his way of assuaging his guilt.

Another similarity between Paul and William develops when Mrs. Morel buys the dish with cornflowers on it. The egg-cup William won for her at the wakes had "moss-roses" on it, and flowers are frequently depicted as calming agents which soothe Mrs. Morel in times of anxiety (she often goes into the garden for respite from her husband). Indeed, the cornflowers delight Paul, and flowers seem to bond other characters throughout the novel.

Previously, Mrs. Morel felt like she was being "buried alive," a logical complaint for someone married to a miner. Here, we learn that the children dislike the vast, open spaces around their new house. While not physically constricting, this space is still a "tight place of anxiety" to the children. No matter where they are, the characters always feel bound by their environment.

The characters are also bound to their love and dependence on William. While Mrs. Morel's dependent love was already well established, we see how his presence can temporarily revive the family, and how his absence can return it to misery.

Lawrence continues to use two forms of temporal shifts here: he laces small scenes into larger narrative sweeps, and uses a flashback for much of this chapter. The purpose is not to construct the temporal movement of the characters' lives, since episodic, achronological narratives are inferior to tight, chronological narratives in that regard. Rather, Lawrence constructs a sense of the characters' emotional movement; an event from years ago may have as much to do with their present feeling as one from last week.

Chapter V Summary:

A work accident lands Morel in the Nottingham hospital with a compound fracture in his leg. Mrs. Morel makes the trip to see him and relates the news to the children. She feels sorry for him, but is mostly indifferent to his pain. Morel soon gets better, and the family is relieved, though they were peaceful and happy in his absence. Paul, now fourteen, is not suited for manual labor, preferring more artistic pursuits like painting. His ambition is to share a cottage with his mother after his father dies. At his mother's request, he unhappily searches through the newspapers for a job.

Meanwhile, William easily climbs London's social ladder, studies Latin to accelerate his legal career, stops sending money home, and becomes taken with a lady. Paul receives an interview with Thomas Jordan, a manufacturer of surgical appliances in Nottingham. He and his mother take the train and arrive at the busy warehouse. He is nervous in his interview with Jordan, a small, curt old man, but secures a job. After, he and his mother indulge in an expensive dinner out in Nottingham and browse several shops before returning home. William sends home a revealing photograph of his lady, Louisa Lily Denys Western. His mother disapproves of Lily's outfit, so he sends a different picture.

Paul starts work, and his mother is proud of him. He works in the "Spiral" corner of the dark, second-floor warehouse, under the supervision of Mr. Pappleworth, a thin, somewhat shrewd man. He starts Paul on copying work orders and other tasks. Paul soon learns to like work, especially Pappleworth, despite his supervisor's occasional irritability. He befriends the girls who work there, including Polly, an overseer with whom he starts having dinner; Connie, an attractive redhead whom he romanticizes; Louie, with whom he jokes; Emma, an old, condescending woman; and Fanny, a lively hunchback. Each night he gives his mother his earnings and tells her of his day.


Lawrence uses the words "prisoner" and "bondage" to describe industrialism's effect on Paul. Immediately contrasting these suffocating words are pastoral images of sunflowers, corn, and woods; flowers once again symbolize a peaceful world apart from the demands and responsibilities of work and family. Ironically, Paul loves work and feels free in the warehouse, showing the first signs of confidence and befriending not only his supervisor but various women.

Though we do not see evidence of Mrs. Morel's jealousy over Paul's relationships with these women yet, again she does not mask her disapproval of William's romantic relationships. Lily's youth, beauty, and wealth threaten her, and it seems doubtful she will ever bless any union of her eldest son.

Moreover, William is drifting further from the family. He is more devoted to his own career, and he uses his money for his personal life. It seems Paul has started working not only to compensate for this loss of income, but to take over William's position as the responsible son. Paul even gleefully announces that he is the "'man in the house'" when his father is in the hospital.

With this new status comes a more confused sexual identity. When Paul and his mother go to Nottingham together, Lawrence describes them as "feeling the excitement of lovers having an adventure together." Paul's Oedipus complex is sketched out in his ambition to share a cottage with his mother after his father dies. Although this does not include the Oedipal desire of murdering the father, the psychological implications are clear.

Chapter VI Summary:

Arthur grows up into an impulsive, selfish, athletic, attractive boy. He hates his father, whose body is decaying and who fights constantly with his children. Arthur wins a scholarship to a school in Nottingham and lives there during the week with an aunt, coming home on the weekends. Annie is a junior teacher, and will soon get a raise. Mrs. Morel and Paul are inseparable when he is home.

William is engaged to Lily, and he brings her home over Christmas. She dresses and acts almost as a "princess," though she has worked as a secretary for the last year. At Easter, he comes home alone, but discusses Lily with his mother. Paul receives a raise. He and his mother take a trip to a friend's farm. Paul compliments his mother's outfit. They walk through the countryside, and Paul picks her flowers. They reach the farmhouse of the Leivers. Paul talks to their fourteen-year-old daughter, Miriam, and meets the three Leiver boys. After they leave, Mrs. Morel says if she were Mr. Leiver's wife, the farm would be better run.

William and Lily make another visit, and Paul spends a good deal of time with them. Lily's materialism, lack of intellect, and queenly demeanor around the family irritates William. He confides in his mother, who suggests he might break off the engagement. He fights with her in front of his mother, who reprimands him. He later makes up with Lily, though he hates her. The three of them walk to the train station for their departure, and William insults Lily more, saying she would forget about him if he died.

William returns again in October, to Mrs. Morel's delight. William, who looks gaunt, repeats his idea that if he died, Lily would soon move on. Later, he shows his mother a rash on his throat he believes his collar made. When he is back in London, she receives a telegram saying he is ill. She rushes to London and finds William mumbling nonsense in bed, his face discolored. A doctor diagnoses it as pneumonia and erysipelas (a skin disease). Mrs. Morel stays with him as he raves madly, and he dies in the night. She wires home the news and tells Morel to come. Later in the week, he and Mrs. Morel return, and the family puts William's coffin in the house. They later bury him.

Mrs. Morel becomes more distant during the fall, even to Paul. Around Christmas, he gets a bad case of pneumonia. Mrs. Morel asks the doctor if he would not have gotten it had she not let him go to Nottingham. When the doctor says it is possible, she thinks she should have "'watched the living, not the dead.'" She lovingly tends to Paul, whose condition worsens until one night he thinks he will die. He is bed-ridden for nearly two months, but his illness brings Mrs. Morel out of her mourning. Lily sends Mrs. Morel a letter indicating her social life is back on track, and she never hears from her again. Morel avoids the cemetery in his daily walks.


William seems to foreshadow his death when he repeatedly mentions that Lily would forsake his love if he died. (Lawrence also says that William proves a "prophet" when Lily does, indeed, forget about William after his death.) Perhaps the one symbolic association we may make with William's death stems from his becoming aware of the erysipelas when he wears a collar. The lifestyle he has adopted in London‹excessively ambitious in the social and working worlds, engaged to a materialistic lady‹has collared and bound him as much as Morel's mining has imprisoned him.

Mrs. Morel, too, dislikes Lily largely because she has somehow escaped this prison. Though Lily, as a secretary, is not at a much higher station in life than Mrs. Morel, nor does she have much intellect, she acts far above Mrs. Morel. Mrs. Morel's jealousy comes out in deceptive, manipulative behavior. She suggests William break off his engagement, then reprimands him for fighting with Lily in front of her.

We again see flowers acting as a bonding agent for Paul and his mother, when he picks her forget-me-nots in the country. His exuberant appreciation of his mother's outfit‹he claims that if he saw her on the street, he'd say "'Doesn't that little person fancy herself!'"‹exposes some complex psychological masking. He transfers his own "fancying" of his mother‹a guilty, incestuous feeling if he admitted to it‹onto her to assuage his conscience.

Mrs. Morel, however, shows the first glimmers of attraction to a male who is not one of her own sons when she critiques Mrs. Leiver to Paul and proposes that she herself would have made a better wife for Mr. Leiver. She does not fully own up to these desires, calling Mrs. Leiver "'lovable'" at the end, just as she never seems completely aware of how her maternal love borders on romantic love for her sons.

Mrs. Morel now has another emotion to deal with: guilt, for William's death. She compensates for his death, and her feeling that it should have been her, by heaping attention on Paul. That he becomes ill with pneumonia as well allows her to enact the maternal duties of nursing she wishes she could have used for William.