Lawrence's Art of Characterization in The Rainbow

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New and Radical Characters.

      Lawrence creates his characters in a highly original and unconventional manner. Conventionally, for the delineation of characters, two methods were adopted. One was the method of direct narration and the other was the dramatic method. It was a commonplace practice to combine both these methods. The author described the outward personality looks and manners of the characters while some light was thrown on these characters by their own dialogues or by what the others said about them. But very much like the modern novelists Lawrence completely departs from the customary methods of characterization. He does not have heroes or villains in the conventional sense of the word. He handles each of his characters emotionally where he finds them lacking, be it the Brangwens or Anton Skrebensky, all of Lawrence's characters are involved in a desperate struggle to seek their emotional fulfillment. It has been rightly said about the characters of Lawrence that: "A character is sketched not by 'extension' but by probing the depth." He shows the character at war with himself instead of probing deep into the sub-conscious even the unconscious of his mind. Though we are sometimes irritated by the characters but we are sure that they are real, flesh and blood people, people we might meet ourselves. Moreover, Lawrence is not concerned with the relationship of his characters with religion, politics or society but he generally concerns himself with their mutual relationships. Thus, the presentation of the characters is made outside time and space. He not only reveals to us the 'past' of the character but the possibilities of his nature in the future are also revealed. Thus, this psychological probing has lost the hero and the villain in the conventional sense, because a psycho-analyst is concerned with the heroism of a character which also dissolves anyhow when we come too close to him. Lawrence in one of his letters to John Keats has stated that the best quality of a poetic genius is 'negative capability, that is, the power of entering into the beings of others with unhampered facility, be he a villain or a paragon and thus giving them a vital, independent motion and character, without the least tinge of the creator’s own nature. However, Lawrence does impart a portion of his temperament to his characters as most of his characters unlike those of shaw who are witty and talkative, are passionate and impulsive, and the nature of their passions and impulses are expressed in the language and imagery of the author himself, who is their interpreter, Lawrence while interpreting these characters probes deeper and deeper into their subconscious reaching their unconscious. Thus Walter Allan in his essay, D.H. Lawrence in perspective states, "what interests him in his characters is not the social man, the differentiated individual, but the seven-eighths of the iceberg of personality that is submerged and never seen, the unconscious mind."

Their Characteristics.

      The characters of Lawrence like himself are hypersensitive with strong passions. They work and live within the limited field of love and marriage and therefore, they are comparatively simple, and lack that complexity which we find in the great figures of literature. Thus, Baker rightly comments: "His men and women are simply human nature, with the elemental endowments of instincts and passional impulses in more than the normal measure, people chosen as exponents of his view of life because they live with something like the same intensity as himself." The characters of Lawrence appear in pairs, man and woman and pass through the stages of romance, courtship and marriage. After marriage the couple struggles for mutual adjustment. The struggle may be bitter, prolonged and ruthless and under the stress of these experiences they change, shed off their angularities and arrive at mutual understanding. The characters through sexual consummation, an essential aspect of marriage are to seek unison with the life outside themselves and they are also to develop an individuality which will not only incorporate the higher spiritual impulses of human consciousness but also represent their adaptation to the world of society and industry. His characters tend to become 'emotions and feelings' as the novel progresses, they no longer remain the visible personalities that they were in the beginning. This change is most visible in the case of Ursula, because she is exposed to a greater diversity of experiences as a school teacher, student at a college, a romantic girl with illusions who passes through the experiences of 'lesbian love' with her mistress and sexual union with Skrebensky, who finally leaves her with his child in her womb. Gradually she sheds off all her illusions and develops her own individuality. Out of her suffering and heart-searching, a new woman is born, free from her past and her natural ties and filled with radiant hope for the fulfillment of promises hidden in the womb of future.

Emotional Delineation.

      Lawrence loses die conventional villain but his characters are 'crippled' not physically but emotionally. As Diana Neill says, "The characters are drawn from the outside in the round as well as realised emotionally." We get a vivid description of the physical features of the characters. They are clearly described as human beings with peculiar physical features, and particular environments, undergoing normal experiences at home, at the school and in society outside where they have to carry on their business. We are told about Tom as being a thick-limbed, stiff, fair man with fresh complexion, and blue eyes staring very straight ahead.’ Lydia is described as having 'thick dark eyebrows and a wide mouth, curiously held.’ Will has, 'golden-brown quick, steady eyes, like a bird’s, like a hawk's which cannot look afraid.' However, Lawrence does not rest satisfied by simply describing the physical features of his characters. He soon sets himself to untangle their emotional tangles. For instance, about Anna, he says: "The girl was at once shy and wild. She had a curious contempt for ordinary people, a benevolent superiority. She was very shy and tortured with misery when people did not like her." However, in the moment of great emotional excitement, they shed; off their emotional coverings and become man and woman for the time being. To describe Ursula in such a moment. "His warmth invigorated her. His beauty of form, which seemed to glow out in contrast with the rest of people, made her proud. It was like deference to her and made her feel as if she represented before him all the grace and flower of humanity. She was no more Ursula Brangwen. She was woman." These are instances when the characters of Lawrence become pure states of mind, or behave like insane people. For instance, Anna's sudden impulse to get up and dance naked, the nullification of her husband before his own bewildered eyes; Ursula stripping herself and her lover and then running with him for more than a mile as naked as the downs under their feet; and Ursula haunted by the pressing strength of the horses, ardent, massive and tense with fire are illustrations of such impulsive actions. Thus, instead of continuity of action we get discontinuity and an abrupt passing of from one series of events, one group of characters, one centre of consciousness, to another.

Symbolic Representation.

      The characters of The Rainbow can be interpreted symbolically. Anna, for instance is symbolic of the mother, the woman seeking fulfillment through childbearing, she is also representative of the life-force as a great river flowing unchecked. Ursula on the other hand symbolically represents the modem, emancipated woman who seeks fulfillment in the outside world. Uncle Tom and Winifred Inger represent the corruption of the modern world resulting from mechanization as Uncle Tom derives satisfaction from the life-sucking qualities of the pit. Though the characters represented by Lawrence have symbolic significance, they do not in any way lose their human characteristics. Lawrence takes care not to lower his characters to the position of mere abstractions though they may be described by him as mere forces rather than as people. E.M. Forster describing the characters of Lawrence rightly says; "they are real human beings with common human virtues and vices. They are not one-sided. They are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. There is no thoroughly wicked character in the novel, and the good have their own weaknesses and shortcomings." Such is the art of the novelist that we are made to sympathize even with the lesbian Winifred Inger.

Harmony Between the Human and the Non-human.

      Lawrence in his character portrayal mixes the human and the non-human and thus brings us into close contact with the very soul of the personages. Lawrence animates the non-human in order to bring out the soul of his characters or to vivify some aspect of human relationships. He trickly mixes up the human and the non-human and uses the non-human to bring out the soul of his characters or for vivifying some human relationships. For instance, when Tom goes to make his proposal to Anna, the wind and the storm serve as very effective backgrounds. In the sheaves gathering episode, Will and Anna come together and merge into each other while the sheaves swish together and become one heap. In various other instances the background of nature participates in the course of the action or even shapes it.


      Lawrence’s modified technique and art of characterization introduced a set of hypersensitive characters who may act illogically, yet he was not a radical experimentalist like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf so that his novels can be understood and enjoyed by the common reader. Whatever defects the prying eyes of critics may discover in his voluminous work, even the purblind cannot but perceive the intrinsic vitality which vibrates through his work. His words thrill the heart and awaken the imagination and a wave of energy emanates from them and passes through the whole being of a sensitive reader as a great tonic. In the words of Baker, "His characters are not humorous treasure trove of the Dickens’ school, or the refined imaginative creations of the humanist. His men and women are simply human nature, with elemental endowment of instincts and passional impulses in more than the normal measure, people chosen as exponents of his view of life, because they live with something like the same intensity as himself. In his novels, he lets them live to the full, and thus secures the virtue of immediacy to a degree probably unique in fiction."

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