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H. D. Lawrence's Works Through The Eyes of Sigmund Freud

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A mother is arguably the most important figure in a child’s life, especially during his or her developmental stages. However, too much love, especially while a child is learning to bond, has the potential to create a mother complex and permanently damage a child’s psyche. This concept, popularized by Sigmund Freud at the turn of the twentieth century, is explored in numerous literary works, especially those of D.H. Lawrence. Through Sons and Lovers, “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” and “Rocking Horse Winner,” Lawrence demonstrates how a mother complex, specifically one formed during a time of childhood trauma, results in a magnified Id.

The first example of this concept is Paul Morel in Sons and Lovers. His extremely close bond with Gertrude is borne of the traumatic events that transpire during his developmental years. His brother dies, and soon after he becomes deathly sick as well. During this time, both Paul’s mental and physical health are under duress, and the person who constantly tends to him is Gertrude. She is with him through his grave illness, creating a much more intricate bond than that of a normal mother-son relationship. The two are described as being “knitted together in perfect intimacy,” explicitly describing the nature of their connection (Sons 97). This deprives him of his ability later in life to bond intimately with other women, especially on a romantic level, because he is never able to fully form the layers of his personality. Like his love for Gertrude, Paul Morel’s Id, which is still forming at the time of his traumatic experience, becomes overly expressed. According to Freud, the Id “has no knowledge of objective reality… [and] attempts at immediate satisfaction” (Mitchell). Paul’s amplified Id manifests itself in both of the romantic relationships he holds throughout the novel; he seeks immediate sexual satisfaction through Clara and immediate spiritual satisfaction through Miriam. These relationships illustrate the extent of his inability to understand his mother complex and his own life’s reality, an obvious example of his over-expressed Id.

D.H. Lawrence also demonstrates this idea through Mabel Pervin in “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” Mabel’s fond memories of her childhood all revolve around her mother; Mabel’s developing years were years spent with her mother, living prosperously and surrounded by love. However, with her mother’s death came the amplification of her mother complex. Her extreme opposition to her father’s decisions coupled with the immense emotional trauma of her mother’s passing leaves her forever infatuated with the memory of her mother’s love. She has a sort of jealousy for her mother, who was able to escape the world that soon condemned Mabel to ten years of servitude. She strives to be a likeness of her mother: “Mindless and persistent, she seemed in a sort of ecstasy to be coming nearer to her fulfilment, her own glorification, approaching her dead mother, who was glorified” (Horse). This clearly defines Mabel’s exaggerated Id, a result of the complex formed by her mother’s traumatic death. The Id is “not governed by logic” (Mitchell), shown explicitly by her mindless attempt to become her mother. She is stuck in the childlike mindset of idolizing her mother, a mindset governed solely by her Id.

Paul in “Rocking Horse Winner” is yet another example of a mishandled childhood situation resulting in over-attachment to a mother. The story begins with an explanation of the tireless whispers that course through the house during Paul’s childhood: “the unspoken phrase, There must be more money! There must be more money!”(Rocking). This constant reminder of the money issues that Paul’s family faces is accompanied by his knowledge that his mother does not love him, as explicitly stated in the opening paragraph. These perpetual expressions of the familial issues that Paul faces is traumatic for him, as he is young and extremely impressionable. He is just at the time that his id is fully developing, but throughout this period he is reminded of his mother’s problematic situation. His father is not helping ease the tension, so young Paul must take the burden. He decides that it is his duty to be “lucky” and bring home money for his mother (Rocking). However, this obsession with fulfilling his mother’s needs is not fueled by rational thinking but instead by his overbearing Id. At the time when his Id should start being modified by a developing ego, he forms a strong mother complex that stunts this growth, leaving him with an obsession to ride his horse until he wins. Only then will he fulfill his irrational, Id-driven desire to make money for his mother. He cannot regulate himself because his Id is too powerful.

Each of these characters cannot understand the root of their irrational needs, yet they know that they must channel it into some sort of release. Their need for catharsis crosses the literary borders between plotlines, uniting all three Lawrence characters. They yearn to “discharge their pent-up energy and cease to be a source of disturbance” (Mitchell), resulting in not only a release of their Id-powered fantasies but much, much more. Paul Morel, driven to insanity and isolation by his mother complex, exercises his final catharsis by killing Gertrude, attempting to free himself of the bondage that has held him his entire life. Mabel Pervin, stuck wandering in a life of confinement and unhappiness without her mother, attempts to purge herself by committing suicide, an extreme form of catharsis that expresses the extent of her underdeveloped psyche. Finally, young Paul, trapped in a cycle of making money and seeing it spent by his mother, never quieting the whispers in the house, exercises the ultimate catharsis: true death. His final win on the rocking horse results in the largest sum of money yet and his mother finds out; this causes Paul to feel fulfilled, satisfying his Id and allowing him the sweet release of death, cleansing him of the problems he harbored due to his damaged mindset. By crafting these parallel stories, D.H. Lawrence successfully conveys the idea that a traumatic childhood experience coupled with a mother complex leads to an overly expressive Id and, inevitably, the need for an extreme form of catharsis — even as extreme as death.

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H. D. Lawrence’s Works Through the Eyes of Sigmund Freud. (2018, February 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
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