Study Guide

Sons and Lovers Technology and Modernization

By David Herbert (D.H.) Lawrence

Technology and Modernization

Then, some sixty years ago, a sudden change took place. The gin-pits were elbowed aside by the large mines of the financiers. The coal and iron field of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was discovered. (1.2)

From the very first page of this book, Lawrence puts modernization in the spotlight. See, smaller mines used to operate in the Morels' neighborhood, but that doesn't mean that working in those mines was any more fun than working in modern ones. If anything, Lawrence's tone feels a bit disinterested here. Why do you think that is?

To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co. built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row, they erected the Bottoms. (1.5)

In the early 20th century, mining companies constructed entire cities so that their miners would be able to live close to work. Each neighborhood had a specific company backing it, and this connection between companies and housing demonstrated the slave-like level of control that companies could have over their workers. Scary stuff.

Paul looked at the picture of a wooden leg, adorned with elastic stockings and other appliances, that figured on Mr. Jordan's notepaper, and he felt alarmed. He had not known that elastic stockings existed. And he seemed to feel the business world, with its regulated system of values, and its impersonality, and he dreaded it. (5.85)

The fact that Paul's introduction to wage labor comes through a picture of an artificial leg shows us how unnatural modern industry is. As the narrator says, the leg represents how the 9-5 grind mutilates people's humanity. That's why Shmoop recommends you become a private detective instead.

There were some gold and some white fowls pecking under the apple trees of an orchard. The colliers were walking home in a stream. The boy went near the wall, self-consciously. He knew many of the men, but could not recognise them in their dirt. And this was a new torture to him. (4.189)

As Paul watches the filthy miners walking home, he can't help but think of them as slaves. The sight terrifies him because he has no clue how he's going to avoid falling into the same trap. Is it asking too much for a boy to just spend his life living in the wilderness and painting? Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

Morel knew she was coming. He had the front door open. Everybody was on tiptoe. Half the street turned out. They heard the sound of the great motor-car. Mrs. Morel, smiling, drove home down the street. (13.666)

It's a really big deal when the Morels drive their mother home in a motor-car. In 1913, motor-cars would have been very rare in Nottinghamshire, and the spectacle is so exciting that all of the Morels' neighbors come outside to have a look at this wonderful machine. See how one little modern convenience can capture the attention of an entire neighborhood? Snazzy, no? And also kind of frightening.

Paul heard a faint voice, like a woman's, out of the mouth of the tube. He gazed in wonder, never having seen a speaking-tube before. (5.281)

The speaking tube in Jordan's factory demonstrates how technology can separate humans from the natural world. Like with your iPhone, there's this voice coming from a speaking tube, but no flesh-and-blood human being behind that voice. The speaking tube unnaturally separates the body from the voice, just like working in a modern factory separates the worker from their company's finished product. Whoa. Dude. Heavy.

"It is comforting," said Mrs. Dawes, "to think the town goes no farther. It is only a little sore upon the country yet." (8.308)

Clara Dawes isn't a very big fan of human civilization—especially modern civilization. Where some people might see a splendid town spreading itself over the disorder and chaos of nature, Clara sees a festering sore on the surface of the world. Nice image, huh?

[F]rom Minton across the farmlands of the valleyside to Bunker's Hill, branching off there, and running north to Beggarlee and Selby, that looks over at Crich and the hills of Derbyshire: six mines like black studs on the countryside, linked by a loop of fine chain, the railway. (1.4)

By directly comparing the railway to a chain, Lawrence gives us our first taste of the prison-like effects of modern industry. While there are many benefits to linking together different communities by train, Lawrence demonstrates that this same system also provides mining companies with a more efficient way to move their coal—thereby increasing their power over the workers who live in the countryside. No piece of technology is purely good or evil, is it? Maybe it's us human beings who decide the goodness or badness of each product, as we put that product to use.

[R]ight away overhead was the glass roof, and all light for the three storeys came downwards, getting dimmer, so that it was always night on the ground floor and rather gloomy on the second floor. The factory was the top floor, the warehouse the second, the storehouse the ground floor. It was an insanitary, ancient place. (5.243)

While Mrs. Morel is excited about Paul's job, the narrator isn't so enthusiastic about Jordan's manufacturing. Like many places of modern industry, the factory tries to be as efficient as possible by using little to no artificial lighting. And who likes toiling away all day in the dark? Not us, Shmoopers. Not us.

But he took the letters and returned to his dark place, where the counter made an angle, where the great parcel-rack came to an end, and where there were three doors in the corner. He sat on a high stool and read the letters—those whose handwriting was not too difficult […] Many of these letters, some of them in French or Norwegian, were a great puzzle to the boy. (5.252, 5.254).

Already, in 1913, you can see Paul Morel confronting the forces of globalization. Orders come across Paul's desk in many different languages, confusing the boy when he barely knows what his job is to begin with. This sort of sink-or-swim environment isn't made for a sensitive fourteen-year-old like Paul, but, as the novel suggests, the guy doesn't seem to have many alternatives. Poor Paul. Poor us. Poor sad, modernized world.