Paul Morel's Second Home: The Role of the Factory Employees in Sons and Lovers

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Paul Morel's great journey from his small Bestwood home to Mr. Jordan's Nottingham factory in D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913) is not the decisive break with home that either he fears or his mother Gertrude expects. Paul is terrified at the thought of becoming a "prisoner of industrialism" (127), and Gertrude imagines him "in the world," in one of "the great centres of industry" (127). The tensions between "the business world, with its regulated system of values, and its impersonality" (115) and Paul's home world--between factory and home, and by extension, town and country, dirtiness and purity, body and spirit--remain in a delicate state of precarious balance yet irresolution throughout the novel. (1) But the factory soon takes on a "homely feel" (141) for Paul. Much more than he realizes, it approaches a re-creation of his Bestwood home and his major childhood relationships.

Although they are sketched only briefly, Paul's co-workers are described in resonant language so similar to that used about the Morel parents and Miriam Leivers that the parallels are clear and noteworthy. With the factory serving as a virtual extension of Paul's home, Polly is comparable to Gertrude, and Fanny and Connie, taken together, comprise an analogue to Miriam. Even the men at the factory with whom Paul has contact--Mr. Pappleworth, Mr. Jordan, and Baxter Dawes--so strikingly represent different aspects of Walter Morel as to seem incarnations of distinctive sub-personalities of him. Lawrence may not have explicitly intended these parallels, and Paul is certainly unaware of the underlying implications of his "homely" factory and its connections to his past and future. Yet the comparisons arise from the novel's rich organic fabric nonetheless.

The less conspicuous strands of that fabric illuminate Lawrence's art as they reveal the nature of the identities between Paul's home and factory. The aim is not, however, simply to point out the relative continuity between Paul's childhood and early manhood. Rather, attention to these parallels casts light upon the progress of Paul's growth and the role of the factory women in that development. Gertrude, Miriam, and Clara Dawes are often viewed as "the three women" in Paul's life as son and lover, with little attention devoted to "Paul as Workman" and his relationships to the women at the factory. Alistair Niven's casual observation that a "trio of women [Gertrude, Miriam, and Clara] initiate Paul Morel into the mysteries and practicalities of life" is the typical critical view (55).

While Gertrude, Miriam, and Clara are undeniably the most fully developed and significant female characters, the tendency to study them and ignore the novel's other women as inconsequential (and thereby to de-emphasize Paul's view of himself and all men as absorbed in the work world) is unfortunate. Critics have pointed out that Annie, acting first as a mother-figure in Paul's childhood and finally as a co-conspirator in Mrs. Morel's euthanasia, is a prominent though usually unnoticed force in Paul's development; and the line of Paul's attachment can be traced from Annie to Gertrude to Miriam to Clara, with tensions and modulations throughout. (2) Paul's relationship, however, with the factory women--whom Paul meets before "Lad-and-Girl Love" with Miriam--represents a crucial, transitional moment in his maturation process. They form a significant, easily overlooked phase of his successive attachments, properly situated after Mrs. Morel and before Miriam. This location is appropriate, given that Polly, Fanny, and Connie mirror selected aspects of Mrs. Morel and Miriam, respectively.

To focus upon the resemblance of factory and home in Sons and Lovers also complicates the related thematic oppositions mentioned above, revealing them not as simple polarities but rather, like Paul's home and Jordan's factory, as images drawn in richly ambivalent terms. It is through Clara that Paul becomes aware of the complexities of work and life, and through her that he finally breaks his "bondage" to both home and factory and truly "launches into life. …