Psychoanalytical and Feminist approaches to D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers
Psychoanalytical and feminist approaches are two relatively recent critical responses towards literary texts. When applied to D. H. Lawrence's Son's and Lovers, both can be insightful yet problematic at the same time.
The theories of psychoanalysis, primarily identified with Sigmund Freud, can be applied to imaginative literature and art in general, in order to study their manifest and latent content, in the same way as Freud studied dreams. Literature clearly lends itself to such a study, since, like dreams, the most significant meaning often lies below the conscious surface narrative of a text. Feminist approaches towards literature are concerned with the portrayal of female characters. Lawrence's representation of women in his work has been admired by many readers for it's insight, women among them, and has been strongly attacked by others for its prejudiced male perspective.
Classic psychoanalytic criticism applied the theories either to the author, or his or her characters, which were seen as internalised images that have come from the author's unconscious. The high autobiographical content of Sons and Lovers lends itself to this type of study. Also, if works of art are taken to be disguised expressions of an infantile wish driven into the unconscious, as Freud suggests, then Sons and Lovers is doubly of interest. It is about the fundamental infantile wish that all boys have and repress, according to Freud, the wish of Oedipus to kill their father and marry their mother.
Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex and of its frequent effect of psychical impotence, of which Paul is a classic victim, offers a valuable key to a coherent understanding of the novel and the way in which it is structured. The extent of the bond established between mother and son is most vividly dramatised by the episode where Paul's mother cries at the thought of losing him to Miriam:
'I can't bear it. I could let another woman but not her. She'd leave me no
room, not a bit of room '
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
'And I've never you know, Paul I've never had a husband not really '
He stroked his mother's hair, and his mouth was on her throat.
(Lawrence, 1994, p. 212)
Not only does she invite Paul to occupy the place of her husband, but she accuses Miriam of the same possessive love with which she smothers Paul. At the end of the chapter, Paul echoes Hamlet, another exemplary Oedipal victim, when he tries to persuade his mother not to sleep with his father. At this point in the novel, the presence of an Oedipus complex in Paul is so patent that one can hardly consider it as a submerged theme. Looked at another way, a major theme of the book is the gradual awakening of Paul to the deadly effects of his Oedipal fixation on his mother. The penultimate chapter, tellingly called 'The Release,' shows how Paul comes to reverse the Oedipal desire to kill...