The story follows the lives of the Morel family. Gertrude Morel is stuck in an abusive marriage with Walter Morel, who she despises for his low-class tendencies and his alcoholism.
With no more love to give to her husband, Mrs. Morel's love and tenderness goes to her children: William, Annie, Paul, and Arthur. But especially to her two older boys, William and Paul. However, her love, although comforting and welcome, becomes a burden to the boys whether they realize it or not.
The book as been adapted several times. Most notably the 1960 film version directed by famed cinematographer, Jack Cardiff.
Sons and Lovers shows the following tropes:
- The Alcoholic: Walter Morel. He’s an abusive man because of it and wastes his pay cheques with his constant drinking in public houses.
- Alpha Bitch: Lily Western. She treats the Morels like they are inferiors, much to William’s chagrin.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Arthur, but he gets shipped off to the army with a wife and baby, and we don't hear from him again.
- Awful Wedded Life: The Morel’s marriage. Walter abuses Gertrude, and she can only take solace in her children.
- Betty and Veronica: Paul has to choose between Miriam (Betty) and Clara (Veronica). He manages to be a jerk to both of them.
- Breach of Promise of Marriage: The probable reason why William won’t back out of his engagement to Lily even though she’s awful to his mother and treats his sister like a servant.
- Calling the Old Man Out: William almost has a fight with his father for hurting his mother and then calls him a coward.
- The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: What William catches and dies from. But it sounds like meningitis.
- Downer Ending: Mrs. Morel dies and Paul can't relate to anyone anymore. He walks the cold streets wishing for death.
- I Am Not My Father: All the children hate their father and are determined to be nothing like him. All achieve this.
- Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Paul suffers from this: he swings from Miriam to Clara and uses both badly. It's implied that his unhealthy relationship with his mother is the cause of his problem with women.
- Momma's Boy: All the Morel children display affection for their mother, but William is the most spoiled, and after his death, Paul takes his place.
- Mommy Issues: Oh, brother. Paul and Mrs. Morel have some serious issues with letting each other live their own lives. Mrs. Morel sees fit to judge his relationships, and Paul lives by her conclusions even if he disagrees.
- My Beloved Smother: The whole novel is about Mrs. Morel giving her love completely, whether inappropriately or not, to her sons. Of course, none of the characters realize the unhealthiness of this sort of relationship.