The Rainbow by English writer and poet DH Lawrence is a modern piece of fiction that explores the story of three generations of the Brangwen family, tracing the growth of each character, especially the three women: Lydia, Anna and Ursula. Like most of Lawrence’s novels, The Rainbow was considered obscene due to its outspoken depiction of sexuality, more so female sexuality and homosexuality, and as a result was banned in England. Thousands of copies were taken from publishers and printers to be burned. The critical reception of any given book varies from reviewer to reviewer and from era to era.
The novel centers on the Brangwen family, who live in the Midlands of England, and deals with a wide range of themes from marriage and sexuality to conflict between the individual and society. It also subtly comments on the education system and colonialism. The story is neither ordinary nor extraordinary, but is told in a way that emphasizes layers of the ordinary.
Even when dealing with common experiences like childhood, adolescence, courtship, love, and family, Lawrence manages to maintain high dramatic tension and emotional turmoil. Written against the background of the industrial revolution, The Rainbow sketches the English social fabric as English society faced the changes that accompanied the revolution.
Above all, the most important idea that The Rainbow highlights is that of discontent and self-realization. Human expectations, being endless, eventually lead to disappointment. The characters struggle to make peace with the outside world and constantly yearn for more than they have.
Tom Brangwen’s life is filled with an air of dissatisfaction and he seeks to marry Lydia, a Polish widow, in hopes that she would fill his life with contentment. Through the trope of complacency, Lawrence tries to drive home ideas of self-actualization and fulfillment. As his characters continue to search for something outside of themselves, they are actually looking for fulfillment within.
“For Lawrence, to be truly fulfilled as a person is to be united…but FR Leavis points out a discrepancy in this idea as Lawrence also seems to suggest that this “unitecan only be achieved between two individuals capable of recognizing their own separation and taking responsibility for it.
The idea of ”unionbrings us to another central theme of the novel: marriage. As Lawrence’s characters seek a sense of wholeness outside of themselves, they struggle to connect with themselves and, therefore, with their partners. Therefore, the marriages we see in the novel are more or less imperfect.
Both Tom and Lydia are irresistibly drawn to the “strangenesson the other, but until their inner selves fail them, they find it impossible to connect despite the random outbursts of sexual passion. Moreover, their inability to communicate reinforces the feeling of estrangement in their marriage. Only when they feel a sense of wholeness within themselves can they completely surrender to each other -“Meeting them now…was much more wonderful than it had been before..”
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Will and Anna seem genuinely in love with each other when they decide to get married, but both have little experience with romance. They too are drawn to each other’s strangeness, but instead of giving themselves to each other, they stay apart. They keep trying to look for wholeness in each other, before looking for it in themselves.
Eventually, they struggle to be together in the face of reality. They spend the first few weeks of their marriage in their own bubble and come apart once they try to get out of it. Will, above all, finds it difficult to assume his responsibilities and feels threatened by the individuality of Anna, whom he sees as “indifference”. Due to his own lack of complacency, he becomes insecure when he sees Anna as a complete being, apart from himself. This situation worsens when they have children and as a result they become more distant from themselves and each other.
In cycle three, we find Ursula, who is determined to find and maintain a separate entity within herself. She is often faced with questions such as “How to act… where to go, how to become yourself?“Ursula pursues a romantic relationship with Skrebensky as a method of breaking the patriarchal gender stereotype of fulfillment around the figure of motherhood that her mother Anna adheres to. Ursula’s socially unacceptable relationship thrives in their unconventional world of revolutionary passion and anarchy.
Ursula’s miscarriage, leading to her eventual sight of the rainbow, demonstrates her success in discovering her individual identity by breaking gender and sexual stereotypes, rather than conforming to tropes of motherhood. or to pursue civic emancipation as advocated by the suffragette movement.
When Ursula discovers such a universe and its potential, Lawrence describes her as sexually overwhelming Skrebensky for her quest to discover the strength of her own feminine identity. Ursula’s unorthodox identity, including her sexual and spiritual independence, exemplifies this by using female sexuality against men like Skrebensky, rather than having to conform to both oppressive and subordinate gender norms like Lydia. Ursula becomes responsible for her freedom and fulfillment.
Moreover, Lawrence’s particular characterization serves to expand the range of ideas in the novel. Through Skrebensky, for example, he manages to critique the masculinist culture that gave way to the Great War in the name of loyalty to “the nation”. Through Winifred, Lawrence attempts to challenge heteronormativity and attempts to explore alternative sexualities.
Lawrence ends The Rainbow with an extraordinary passage that has been debated by critics since the release of the novel. While many critics felt the ending was unsatisfying, there were suggestions that the novel would have a “anti-finding”. Ursula’s terrifying encounter with the wild horses and the sight of the rainbow somehow lead her to the answer she was looking for.
The Rainbow, therefore, can be seen simply as a doorway for Ursula to pass through. These visions seem to cause an inner revolution and provide him with other paths on which to walk. So the ending doesn’t feel like an end, but rather a new beginning.
The frank description of sexuality in The Rainbow angered a lot of people at the time of its release and it was vigorously accused of obscenity. But when seen critically, sex appears more like a symbol, something above and beyond eroticism. It can represent a range of meanings from transcendence to degradation to exploration.
The sexual relationships between different characters serve an important purpose in the novel, sometimes revealing their inner turmoil, curiosity, and much more. To the extent that, The Rainbow delves into the psychological depths of its characters, explores the idea of ‘the new woman‘, and takes the reader into his universe. Lawrence certainly undertook an arduous task with The Rainbowaddressing a range of subjects with great precision, while maintaining artistic integrity.
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Dougherty, Adelyne. “The concept of person in DH Lawrence’s THE RAINBOW.” Bulletin of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, flight. 21, no. 3, Sage Publications, Ltd., 1972, p. 15–22
Brown, Homer O. “‘THE PASSIONATE STRUGGLE IN CONSCIOUS BEING: DH LAWRENCE’S “RAINBOW”.’” The DH Lawrence Review, flight. 7, no. 3, DH Lawrence Review, 1974, p. 275–90
Wexler, Joyce Piell. “Sex is not everything (but it can be anything): The Symbolic function of the extremity in modernism.” Academic literature, flight. 31, no. 2, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, p. 164–83
Stewart, Jack F.”Expressionism in ‘The Rainbow.‘” NOVEL: A forum on fiction, flight. 13, no. 3, Duke University Press, 1980, p. 296–315
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