The Theme of The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

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Varied Themes

      The Rainbow has been described as a complex work of art with various themes. The novel can be interpreted in a number of ways. It offers a wide range of human experiences thus making it difficult to single out any one theme. However, the problem of love and marriage which has a permanent and universal significance has been treated here in relation to lovers of three generations of a single English family against a time span of over sixty years. According to Bonamy Dobree For, however much Lawrence may be telling a story, or presenting the life of today, there is one theme which more and more dominates his writing and that is the relation, not so much of the sexes, that poor over battered theme, but of the male and female principles. For him there is somewhere essential maleness and somewhere else essential femaleness, both, of course, necessary to universal fruition. But everywhere in men he sees a lack of real feminity: all have been distorted by consciousness, by religions, by over intellectualization. Instead of leading the life of impulse, men and women lead lives directed at one extreme by the body at the other by the mind; men are devoted to absurd schemes of power, of position, or to mere money-grubbing. Everywhere people are worshipping false gods, involved in spiteful partisanships, or wasteful snobberies. However, we can now deal with the themes which have been elaborately worked out.

The Salvation Theme

      Julian Moynahan states that each individual in the novel seeks out his salvation, which is a wholesome, healthy state of being attainable in this world. This state of salvation is possible to be achieved only through marital and sexual experience. Since Lawrence feels that such a 'fulfillment' is possible only through marriage, it becomes a major recurring event is The Rainbow. But at the same time, simply being married does not assure 'wholeness' but it is important for the husband and wife to understand that. They are two very separate beings, vitally connected, knowing nothing of each other, yet living in their separate ways from one root. The marriage partners are two distinct individuals inspite of being one and united in marriage. They should be as distinct individuals and be capable of adapting themselves to the life of society and industry. Denial of social life as William Brangwen does, leads to frustration. Thus, other than being an end in itself marriage becomes a means of human fulfillment. In the novel, it is clearly noticed that each partner in the three distinct pairs has a pursuit as a social being inspite of the fact that blood intimacy is realized between them through physical relationships. This dual fulfillment is expressed by Lawrence with the help of the three generations of the Brangwens.

      In the first generation, Tom and Lydia’s marriage is the most successful relationship which Lawrence presents in the novel, unhampered at the outset by any possibility of parental pressures, it is at bottom firmly based on Lydia's material and Tom's spiritual needs: she was 'poor, quite alone, and had had a hard time in London,' whilst he knew himself as incomplete and subject without her he was nothing.' For Lydia and Anna, after their years of uncertainty and insecurity, Tom provides a stable and comfortable home and love, whilst she gives to him a new understanding of the meaning of life. It is not always a perfect union; particularly in her pregnancies Lydia often seems withdrawn, separate, whilst Tom, on his side, is unable to abandon himself wholly to her; but there is no taunting or baiting as there is later between Will and Anna; each respects the independent life of the other, yet finds fulfillment of self through the relationship, which contained bonds and constraints and labors, and still was complete liberty.

      Will and Anna, in the second generation, fail to achieve the wholeness of being. Each of them tries to dominate the other. Their love lacks spirituality and hence, after their marriage when physical desire is partly sated, they have no real point of meeting, they are unable to communicate about the things that matter to them. When Will tries to talk to Anna about his wood-carving he is lost for words. Later when Anna finds that she is pregnant she cannot tell her husband, but in her anguish blurts it out to her parents whose love is more 'careful' and less demanding. The problem which Will and Anna have to face and which finally defeats their love for each other is that of recognizing not only their unity as a married couple but also the separateness of identity of the other; but neither is willing to give way; Will tries to assert his way as 'master' and Anna too tries, though more subtly, to dominate him: 'Anna Victrix', She proudly declared after Ursula's birth. As Anna finds her own self-confidence and power over Will through her motherhood, it is perhaps not surprising that she gradually lapses into a long trance of complacent child-bearing. Will, on the other hand continues to struggle against being dominated, against seeing his spirit as subservient. Like Tom he turns to his daughter for affection but, unlike Tom, he uses this affection for the realization of his own power. In the words of David Daiches, "Lawrence's novels are always about basic human relationships, he is never content to present case histories of oddities or exceptions; everything he presents to us is intended to bear directly and centrally on questions of marriage and friendship and the possibilities of true marriage and true friendship in modern society. We are always being presented with norms, directly or by implication, positively or negatively."

      Ursula Brang wen in the third generation lives through a number of exhausting erotic experiences. There is an intense desire in Ursula for individual fulness of being and inspite of this she involves herself in the most unfulfilling experiences. Initially, there is very little real love between Ursula and Skrebensky. In fact, she is in love, not with Skrebensky, but with the part of herself that she sees in him; she was in love with a vision of herself, Lawrence explains. Skrebensky, on his side, is inflamed to passion by the unthinking and ingenuous sexuality of the girl. It is difficult to be sure when Ursula and Skrebensky become lovers. The love scenes between Ursula and Anton are the least satisfactory episodes in the book; the turgid language fails to give any genuine insight into Ursula’s character and Skrebensky is never more than a cipher. Had he been real for Ursula, he might have become real for the reader too, but if there is anything in him to understand, she does not understand it: 'It seems to me,' she remarks, 'as if you weren't anybody-as if there weren't anybody there, where you are. Are you anybody really ? You seem like nothing to me.' In comparison with the vitality of the bargemen and his family, Anton is empty, lifeless. The affair of Anton and Ursula pushes on to its inevitable conclusion, the broken engagement, the aborted baby and Ursula's breakdown, the relationship with Skrebensky is not, of course, the only love relationship which Ursula forms during the course of the books. During Skrebensky's absence, whilst he is serving in the Boer War, and whilst Ursula is still at school, she has a brief lesbian affair with one of her school mistresses, Winifred Inger. By the time the novel ends, Ursula has suffered the disillusion of various failed relationships and is ready to build her life anew on 'a living fabric of Truth' which the rainbow symbolizes for her.

A Social Document.

      F.R. Leavis rightly regards The Rainbow as an important social document. It traces the gradual invasion of the peaceful countryside by the industrial dirt, wind and noise of whirling machines, giving birth to the increased material output and the multiplication of wealth and opportunities of employment. The second aspect is the increase of knowledge and expansion of education, which flings the doors wide open to men and women alike, and makes for the sense of equality and freedom. The men and women are separated from the land, from the Church and from the family because of this growth of scientific and industrial civilization. The record of the life of the Midland countries presented by Lawrence is moving and effective because Lawrence himself was born and bred in the mining town of Eastwood in the country of Nottinghamshire. Thus, he had as intimate knowledge of the life in the English Midlands and the changes that were taking place in that life.

The Oedipal Love.

      Lawrence himself suffered from the evil consequences of mother-love. Middleton Murry has rightly said, “Lawrence was never able to make a happy emotional adjustment with other women. The novelist was a tortured soul for the full forty-five years of his life, and what he suffered, and what he thought and observed under the stimulus of suffering, can very well be guessed from the study of The Rainbow”

      In The Rainbow, Tom is a boy, we are told that his mother 'admired most' his brother Alfred but Tom 'was his mother's favorite.' The most significant parent-child relationships are between Tom and Anna and Will and Ursula. Tom is a kind and understanding step-father and cherishes Anna, comforting her when she is unhappy and providing her with entertainment and amusement on her own terms. It is a delightful relationship and though she has a brief moment of defiance of him when she and Will tell him of their intended marriage, the love between them is close and warm throughout their lives. With Will and Ursula, it is different for though he loves her he wishes to dominate her: 'he had a curious craving to frighten her and thus he jumps into the canal with the infant Ursula clinging to his back or drives the swing boats at the fair until they hang almost perpendicular. Since Will’s love for Ursula is of a perverse kind, it has a deadening effect on Ursula’s sensibility.

      To conclude, in the words of Lawrence himself: "The novel is a perfect medium for revealing to us the changing rainbow of our living relationship. The novel can help us to live, as nothing else can: no didactic scripture, anyhow."

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