The central theme of the novel Sons and Lovers is Oedipus complex — which refers to a mother’s love for her son and a son’s love for his mother. It refers to the love for the parent of the opposite sex, and hatred for the parent of the same sex.
In the novel we find that Gertrude Coppard married Mrs. Morel being attracted by him. Initially they led a very happy married life but slowly Mrs. Morel started feeling frustrated with her husband’s indulgent and shiftless ways. Their persistent quarrels alienated Mrs. Morel and became a terror for the children who developed sympathies for their mother and a hatred for their father. Especially William and Paul resented their father and readily fought for the cause of their mother.
Morel was kind and tender to his children when he was in a good mood but such occasions were rare. Sometimes in the evenings when he asked his children to help him in cobbling his boots or mending his pit bottles, then the family was happy. Sometimes Morel told stories to children in his own interesting way. But most of the time the children are afraid of him and his brutality gets on their nerves. The family is hushed into silence as soon as the father comes back home. Partly because of the attitude of Morel and partly because of the mother’s influence the children start treating their father as an outsider.
William is the eldest son of Mr. Morel. His relationship with his father is not so pleasant. The violence and brutality of his father, his coarseness, and lack of refinement, and his drunkenness all disgust him, till he comes to loathe him. He is a witness to the brutally violent treatment of his mother at the hands of his father; the result is that William eyes his father with distrust and hostility. Since his mother loves him so well, his father, red hot with jealousy, often bullies him. Once when he finds that his father has hit his mother, he threatens to beat him up and might have done so, but for the intervention of his mother. Thus William openly shows his hostility to his father.
Paul, the second son of Mr. Morel, is also obsessed with his mother, and it is natural for him to develop a hatred for his father because of his brutal treatment to his wife. His hatred for. His father goes to the extent of his wanting to forfeit the prize he has won at school rather than seek his father’s approbation. Mr. Morel is also apprehensive of some incestuous relationship between the mother and son. In chapter VIII, when Mrs. Morel confesses to Paul that she never really had a husband and Paul tries to console her by stroking and kissing her. Mr. Morel comes in right at this moment and remarks, “At your mischief again?” If Mrs. Morel had not fainted, a fierce combat would have taken place between the father and the son.
Thus the father-son relationship in the novel is the relationship of hatred and hostility. Because of the sons’ mother-fixation, they begin to hate their father. For this unpleasant father-son relationship, Mrs. Morel’s excessive love for her sons is largely responsible. Mr. Morel’s unscrupulous behavior is also not least responsible.