Instead, he works to fit into the social class of which he is a part. His village is dedicated to coal mining and does not have the sort of wide social divisions seen in Pip's London. Instead, the community is more of a piece, though there're still divisions on the basis of education, attitude, and birth to a degree. Paul's father is a miner, while his mother is a well-educated woman. Paul's brother and sister are considered successful. Paul is not yet twenty as the novel begins and works in a factory that produces surgical appliances. He gets sick, though, and spends more time with Miriam Leivers, whom he falls in love with. She is a deeply religious girl, which keeps them apart as lovers, and for that matter, Paul is so smothered by his mother that he is kept from expressing himself fully to Miriam. When the two finally do become lovers some time later, the act ends their relationship. Paul next turns to Mrs. Clara Dawes, a married woman with a violent husband.
Both the women Paul loves have problems that prevent them from being true lovers for the young man, and in both cases he alternates between love and hate for both. Miriam is religious to the point of fanaticism, and Clara never really gives up on her estranged and vengeful husband. Paul may see these two women as having these problems and believes that that I the reason his relationships fail, but in fact it is his relationship with his mother that is the real reason his other relationships are doomed to failure. For Paul, his mother is perfection that no other woman can match. For her part, her own marriage is unhappy, and she has more in common with her sensitive and artistic son than with her rough and often drunk husband. Indeed, she was obsessed with her son William until his death, and she now focuses all her attention on Paul. Neither son could ever find a woman of whom their mother would approve, and she finds fault with all women who might take one of her sons. Her own intellectual and more sensitive nature is stifled in the milieu of this mining town, and she turns all her energies on her sons for that very reason. Paul's relationship with his mother is much too strong, and his relationship with his father is antagonistic. He often imagines his father dying, and clearly he would prefer if these were not fantasies but reality.
Indeed, the family dynamic in this novel is extremely Freudian, recreating the Oedipal complex and envisioning it as the normal dynamic of the family. This gives the title a certain edge as well, as if from the mother's point-of-view, sons and lovers are equivalent. Clara in particular is a maternal substitute for Paul, who works out the Oedipal complex in his other relationships, another reason why they fail. Lawrence also expresses the plight of his main characters in terms of their bondage to certain ideas or realities. Mrs. Morel feels herself bound by the social conventions of her society and by the expectations placed on her as a woman. She can never escape from the family, and she resents the woman who might take her sons all the more for that fact. Paul is also tie dto the social order to a degree, though he seems happier about it. He likes his work in the factory, though his mother sees it as stifling and as preventing him from his real avocation of painting. Paul's real bondage is to his mother, though he does not really recognize this as a harmful reality. Ultimately, Paul is not even freed from ties to his mother when she dies, and the most meaningful bond in his life is that with his mother.
Paul encounters the brutality of people when he is beaten by Baxter Dawes in retaliation for the relationship he has with Clara, though oddly his bond with Dawes becomes stronger as a result. The two become friends, so much so that Paul is instrumental in bringing Dawes and his wife back together. Of course, Clara was always obsessed with her husband even when they were apart, but just as clearly, Paul is not so taken with Clara or any women but his mother that he wants her for himself. Instead, he serves his own needs by linking her with her husband again and so removing her from his own life. After the death of his mother, Paul is left on his own. He and his father move into separate homes. The young man is now lost, unable to turn to his other as he did in the past. He can no longer paint because she is gone. Miriam tries one more time to reach him, but he rejects her. He almost gives in to suicidal thoughts but rejects that as a solution as well. He says that he will not give in to the darkness, but in fact he sees nothing left in his life but darkness. His inability to paint is significant, showing how his artistic sensitivity also derived from his mother to a great degree. In fact, that was a key bond between them, and now that she is gone, he no longer feels about it as he did when she was alive.
Early in the novel, the key relationship in the family is that between the mother and William, and everything that she expresses about William she will later express about Paul. She was always a woman dissatisfied with her life and eager to substitute her sons for her husband. Her greatest fear for William is that he will turn out to be like his father. That would mean she fears that he will turn out to be a drunk, but when he goes to London, her greatest fear is evidently that he will socialize too much, spend time with women, and withdraw from his mother. Paul never leaves home in that way and so is kept closer to his mother always. When William dies, Mrs. Morel is certain her own life is over as well, for he takes much of her heart with him when he dies. She is inconsolable until Paul gets sick, at which time she transfers her obsession with William to Paul. He is always near at hand, and for him, his mother is always near at hand. When she dies, his life loses its mooring and he is adrift. He has no substitute for her as she did for his brother, leaving him more adrift than was she.
The two novels are very different in their treatment of the meaning of family. Lawrence ties the idea of family to sexuality, which Dickens does not. Pip is obsessed with family because he does not have one, while Paul is obsessed with the family he does have, showing love for his mother and hatred for his father. Pip would not understand such a range of emotions or see the harm family can cause except in social terms, while the harm in Sons and Lovers is of a deeper and more lasting nature. Both family ideas exist within the social structure of their respective communities, and in each case the circumscriptions of that society have an effect on the characters, on their fortunes, and on the choices they are able to make. In Dickens, the stratification of society is the major force, while in Lawrence, it is the effect of industrialization on the working class. For Pip, the lack of a family makes family everything to him, while for Paul Morel, everything really is decided by his family, including the nature of his relationship with others in the course of his life. Pip comes to a realization and achieves a transformation when he begins to see the inherent worth of people, while Paul is left without an anchor and so cannot function any longer in the world. Paul';s experience in a way mirrors that of his mother when William died, though without the possibility of a recovery though transference. He rejects the only person who even tries to each him, that being Miriam, and even if he does not kill himself as he considers, his life is essentially over.