Exposition (Initial Situation)
One Kid Too Many and a Deadbeat Dad
Welcome to The Bottoms. With a name like that, this neighborhood can't be too nice, can it? The opening three chapters of the book give us some background on the village of Bestwood and this neighborhood in it, which is where Gertrude and Walter Morel have moved with their children.
Being from a prim and proper family, Gertrude's fell for Walter because he was a young miner who danced well and laughed at danger. But he changed quickly. As time goes on, we watch as Walter turns into a boozehound and abusive father.
Gertrude hates living in poverty, and her situation only gets worse as she gives birth to her third and fourth children: Paul and Arthur. We also learn in this part of the story that William ends up taking Walter's place in Gertrude's heart. Gertrude is a very intelligent woman who bet everything on her marriage and lost.
So now she has to content herself with raising her children. And she way overdoes it with her love and investment in them.
By showing us all of these family issues and character flaws up front, Lawrence uses the exposition stage of the novel to lay the groundwork for the conflicts that will plague the young Paul Morel for the rest of this book… especially after William dies and Mrs. Morel focuses all her stunted desires on Paul.
Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)
Dead Brother + Homewrecker = Unhappy Mom
As William (the oldest son) grows up, he turns out to be pretty hot stuff. Soon, he's making a lot of money for the family, and moves to London. But his big plans for the future hit a little snag when he suddenly dies.
Mrs. Morel is devastated. But hey, no worries, she's got another son named Paul who she's more than happy to focus her attention on.
Another conflict arises when Paul meets a young girl named Miriam Leivers and totally falls in love with her… well, sort of. In any case, Paul and Miriam's complicated relationship basically serves as the main conflict for the rest of the book. Because of course, Mrs. Morel wants Paul all to herself.
The weird love triangle between Paul, Miriam, and Mrs. Morel escalates and escalates. Paul feels like he has to choose between Miriam, his mother, and even himself—what about his own career aspirations, for example?
Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)
Gone Mommy Gone
Eventually, Paul finds out that his mother is living with a tumor on the side of her belly that's the size of two fists. That's pretty big. Mrs. Morel and his sister, Annie, totally guilt-trip him about not noticing because he's been spending so much time having sex with a woman named Clara Dawes.
On the one hand, he's totally sad that his mom's going to die. But on the other hand, he actually gets frustrated that the stubborn old woman takes so long to die.
One day, over dinner, Paul tells Annie that he's going to give his mother an overdose of morphine to kill her. It's unclear if he ever goes through with this, though Mrs. Morel does finally lose consciousness and die.
You can tell this is the climax of the story because all of the action and conflict in the book has in some way stemmed from Mrs. Morel's attachment to Paul and vice versa. Dun dun dun.
The relationship between Mrs. Morel and her son has always complicated Paul's love for Miriam. With Mrs. Morel gone, though, Paul might just be able to live like a normal adult. But does he?
Paul Hits the Town
With his mother dead, Paul loses all sense of direction in his life and starts drinking and hanging out in bars, just like dear old Dad. It's pretty sad to see Paul go down this road. But, as readers, we hold out hope for the fact that he'll go crawling back to Miriam Leivers.
She'll make him into a good person, right?
When Paul actually approaches Miriam, all of their old cat-and-mouse habits get the best of them. Neither one is willing to go out on a limb and ask the other to marry them. So the romantic reconciliation fails, and Paul and Miriam go their separate ways.
The book teases us with the possibility for more romance between them one more time, but then snatches it away and says, "Guess what, you've entered the Falling Action portion of the book. Stuff is winding down, and nothing major is going to happen."
Half of you might be disappointed, but the other half might realize that you've already read four hundred pages, and you don't need four hundred more.
Hooray for Life. Maybe?
After his failed meeting with Miriam, Paul thinks about killing himself so he can be with his mommy again. But at the last second, he totally pulls himself up by the bootstraps and decides that he's going to keep living on no matter how terrible his life gets.
From one perspective, the book denies us closure because Paul never reconciles with Miriam. From another perspective, the last paragraph gives us a tidy little resolution: Paul chooses life. And we're left to wonder if he ever manages to do anything good with his life.