The Structure of Plot Construction in The Rainbow

Also Read

Lawrence’s Defence Against Formlessness.

      As with the modem novels, so is the case with the novels of D.H. Lawrence, plot seems to have died out. Plot seems to have been lost in the conventional sense of the term. According to J.W. Beach, "Lawrence the revolt against the well-made novel." In fact, Lawrence revolted against the conventional plot construction and departed from it by making a study in 'patterns of psychic relationship'. He himself said, "You mustn't look in my novel for the old stable ego of character. There is another ego, according to whose action, the individual is unrecognizable, passes through, as it were, allotropic states which it needs a deeper sense than any we’ve been used to exercise to discover—states of the same single radically unchanged element." Thus, the novels of D.H. Lawrence do not tell a story, they do not have a definite plot, made up of a chain of events together by what Aristotle has called 'the law of probability and necessity', which means that one incident must lead to another and the story must move towards a definite end. Going by the orthodox fictional technique we can easily subscribe to the views of critics like Galsworthy and Arnold Bennett that the novel is formless. Lawrence in defense to the criticism of Arnold Bennett said, "Tell Arnold Bennett that all rules of construction hold good only for novels which are copies of other novels. A book which is not a copy of other books has its own construction, and what he calls faults, he being an old imitator, I call characteristics." Thus, in The Rainbow, there is nothing sensational or thrilling in the traditional sense. There are mysteries but these mysteries are largely psychological, there are conflicts but these conflicts are mainly internal and take place within the soul. So, Lawrence has evolved on an altogether new form to suit his purpose. In his letter to Edward Garnett he said, "don’t look for the development of the novel to follow the lines of certain characters: the characters fall into the form of some other rhythmic form, as when one draws a fiddle-bow across a fine tray delicately sanded, the sand takes lines unknown."

      Though Lawrence was severely criticized for his radicalism and the breaking of conventional norms in the plot construction of his novels where he was condemned for being formless. Frieda Lawrence discussing this problem of form in 1912 had said: "I have heard so much about 'form' with earnest; why are you English so keen on it ? Their own form wants smashing in almost every direction but they can't come out of their snail house. I know its so much safer. That's what I love Lawrence for, that he is so plucky and honest in his work, he dares to come out into the open and plant his stuff down bold and naked: really he is the only revolutionary worthy of the name, that I know; any new thing must find a new shape, then afterward one can call it 'art'." Thus, Frieda with the following words has been able to defend Lawrence in a very subtle and unirrigated manner.

The Drama of Three Generations.

      The Rainbow relates the story of three successive generations of one particular family, tackling the problem of love and marriage in ways peculiar to their temperaments and the social context. In the case of Tom and Lydia, the story of their love and marriage is told clearly and continuously and there is nothing irrelevant. The only place where Lawrence appears to be unnecessarily elaborative is the story of Lydia's past which almost goes out of proportion. There is a sense of discontinuity and over-elaboration when in the third generation, too much space is devoted to Anna's childhood and girlhood and her love, courtship and marriage. The reader is strained to the breaking point when the description of conflict and combat of Will and Arina are described directly, symbolically and evocatively so much so that only resolute readers can follow the account with interest unflagged. It is when we reach the third generation wherein Lawrence deals with the description of Anna's childhood at great lengths that the structural peculiarities become more prominent. When after the death of her grandfather, Ursula becomes a frequent visitor to the Marsh Farm that her grandmother tells her long and elaborate story of her past and her first husband, a story which has already been told earlier before she entered into marriage with Tom. Lawrence once again indulges in a long and tedious description of Ursula's life as a school teacher and her love and courtship. Thus, the narration is about the seeking of self-fulfillment by each of the Brangwens in his or her own way. The story is a reflection of the trial and error in their choosing a partner. With each succeeding generation of the Brangwens, there appear to be needless repetitions.

Illogical Behaviour of Characters.

      There are instances in The Rainbow when we find characters in the novel behaving illogically. Lawrence, talking about the behavior of his characters had himself emphasized in his letter to Garnett that there is a second ego in his characters which is below the stable ego. This second ego is fixed and static, bound by logic and rationality whereas the stable ego is a dynamic thing beyond or below the bondage of logic. In this matter Mark Spilka comments: "To accommodate the behavior of the soul not as a stable but ever-changing, element, a kind of second ego which moves along within the flux of life, waxing and waning in accord with man's emotional experience, he discovered and employed emotional form; he learned to deal directly and obliquely with specific state of being: in other words he learned to chronicle the movement of the soul.


      To bind the novel together and to create a unity, symbols have been used. The key symbols are the church and the rainbow. The church is an expansive symbol, which measures the spiritual condition of every generation. It's only in the second generation that its value is questioned by the rationalist Anna. The 'Rainbow' on which the novel ends is a symbol of life, its continuity and its hope for resurrection. Then we have the symbol of the sun and the moon. The Sun is a male symbol, the warmth of the male under which a woman opens her petals like a flower. The moon according to Lawrence is the planet of women...Again we have light as the symbol of the conscious layer of personality, which overlies the dark jungle of the unconscious or sub-conscious.

      Then, we have in the novel, certain scenes of symbolic significance. Julian Moynahan feels that there are five such scenes in the novel: the extended description of Lydia’s slow emergence from the state of quiescent withdrawal she had suffered after the death of their first husband; the dance-like gathering of the sheaves performed by Will and Anna on a moonlit night during their courtship; the scene in which Anna Brang wen, pregnant and naked, dances before the 'unknown' as David danced before the 'Lord'; Ursula's moon 'consummation' in the stackyard and; Ursula's encounter with the horses.

      Then we have various symbolic characters. Anna is the mother, a woman seeking fulfillment through child-bearing. Tom Brangwen represents everyman. Ursula is a representative of the modem emancipated woman and Uncle Tom and Winifred are representatives of the corruption of modem world which has come as a result of mechanization.

Some Flaws.

      The Rainbow suffers from various flaws as insignificant incidents are, elaborated to tiring extents; the characters behave in sudden, unexpected and illogical-manner and; the apparent looseness of the novel with regard to its structure. Furthermore, Lawrence becomes so elaborate and repetitive in the last part of the novel that he is unable to keep the interest of the reader unflagged. Then, he has a tendency to obtrude so much of our attention that it becomes difficult to distinguish the characters from the author. Arnold Kettle expressing his opinion about The Rainbow Says: "There are, I think, two ways in which Lawrence's unsatisfactory philosophy seriously limits the success and value of The Rainbow as a work of art. In the first place there is the excessive intensity, the lack of relaxation, which gives the book as a whole, an obsessive quality, all rather high pitched and overwrought. In the second place—not quite separable from the first quality—is the unresolved element of mysticism. In the final pages of the book Lawrence seems to be making a desperate effort to slough off this mysticism, to purge from his vision its excessive individualism, to see his people not in terms of mysterious allotropic states of being, but as men and women born and living in twentieth-century England, nowhere else."


      In the words of F.R. Leavis, "The rendering of continuity and rhythm of life through the individual lives has involved a marvelous invention of form, and no, one who sees what is done will complain of the absence of what is not done. It is the same life, and they are different lives, living differently the same problems—the same though different—in three inter-linked generations; that is how the form is felt." Thus, one can say that The Rainbow is a new kind of novel, with a new technique, which is not bound by the old rules of orthodox fiction. Its aims can be said to be to convey felt experience; to expose the psychic depth of his characters; to present a process, not a finished product. Lawrence aims to make his readers feel. Hence it can rightly be summed up in: the words of Mark Kinkead-Weekes : "The Rainbow is much more difficult than Sons and Lovers, though it is also ultimately much more rewarding. In some ways we are still learning to read it. Many earlier criticisms have been displaced by advances in interpretation; objections to Lawrence’s over-insistence have come to seem oddly paired with failures to grasp exactly what is being insisted upon; objections to the irrelevance of some parts of the novel have vanished as we have learned more about its structure."

Previous Post Next Post