Walter Morel is the father figure in the novel Sons and Lovers. He is rough, sensual, hard-drinking father. In many ways, he is his wife's opposite. Walter is from a lower-class mining family. He speaks the local dialect in contrast to his wife's refined English. He loves to drink and dance practices that Gertrude, a strict Congregationalist, considers sinful. There are two ways to look at Walter Morel's failure to be a good husband, father, and family breadwinner. We can see him as a man broken by an uncaring, brutal industrial system and an overly demanding wife. We can also see Walter as his own worst enemy, inviting self-destruction through drink and irresponsibility.
We learn a good deal about Walter's good and bad qualities in Sons and Lovers, While Lawrence seems to concentrate on the character's violence and irresponsibility, he also gives you a picture of Walter's warm, lively, loving ways. The key scenes of family happiness revolve around the time when Walter stays out of the pubs and works around the house, hugging his children and telling them tall stories of life down in the mines.
In this novel, Paul utters a line which could be a vital clue to the understanding of the major characters of his father an mother and their mutual incompatibility. “The difference between people isn’t in their class, but in themselves. From the middle classes one gets only ideas and from the common people- life itself, warmth.”
On one occasion Walter fell ill. His wife nursed him back to health with great devotion. Of course, she did not love him any more, yet she realized that he was the bread-winner of the family and that his life was precious to them. At the same time she could not have denied that she had been steadily casting him off, and turning for love and affection to her children. From the time onwards he was more or less a husk. The children now hated him just as their mother did. On one occasion he wanted to thrash the eldest boy, William, because a neighbor had complained to him against the boy’s behavior; but Mrs. Morel did not permit her husband to touch the boy.
On another occasion, William became so defiant to his father that he was almost ready to hit him. William clenched his fists and was ready for a fight with his father who had spoken to him threateningly. It was Mrs. Morel who prevented the two from coming to blows with each other. Paul too had started hating his father. Every night he would pray to God to make his father stop drinking. It was not only Mrs. Morel who was now suffering the misery of her husband’s drinking habits and his violent behavior, but the children also suffered with her. Indeed, the children thought him to be such a tyrant that the would lie in their beds at night in a state of suspense when he came home nearly drunk, and banged his fist on the table.
Indeed, Walter was now shut out from all family affairs. No one told him anything. On one occasion, when Paul had won a prize in a competition, his mother told him to tell his father about the prize. Paul’s reaction was that he would rather forfeit the prize than tell his father about it. However, he did give the news to his father, though the father did not express much joy over his son’s winning a prize. In fact, conversation had become impossible between the father and any other member of the family. He was treated by them as an outsider, an alien.
And yet there was another side to Walter’s character. There were times when he not only behaved affectionately towards his children but was very jovial and merry. He was a good workman not only at the pit, but also in cobbling the boots or mending the kettle. While doing this sort of thing in the house he wanted his children around hi; and they united with him in the work. On these occasions he was his real self. He was not only in a good humor, but he also sang. After periods lasting months and years of friction and bickering with his wife and children, he would become suddenly jolly, and then it was nice for them to see him in a carefree mood soldering a utensil or repairing boots. But the best time for the children was when he made fuses. When the children asked him any question, he would reply most kindly, addressing the question as “my beauty,” “my duckey” and “my darling.” One when Paul fell ill, Walter felt deeply concerned about the boy’s condition. He tried to attend to the sick boy though the boy had no love at all for his father. Walter showed the same love to William when William had gone to London to take up a new job. When William was to pay a visit to the family, Walter spent some very anxious moments because William had not arrived in time. And his eyes were wet when William left again. Once, when he had hurt his leg in an accident at the pit, he was taken to hospital where his wife visited him regularly. He told her that he could not survive; but she told him that nobody ever died of a fractured leg. During this period of hospitalization, she was a source of great comfort to him. And he was not lacking in his appreciation of the attention she was paying him.
When William died, his grief was immense, though his grief was not half as much as his wife’s grief. For a time he even became gentle towards his wife. William’s death affected him so much that he took care never to go to the locality where William had at one time been working as a clerk, and he always avoided going to the cemetery where William lay buried. Years later, when his wife fell ill, he felt genuinely sad because everybody said that she was dying.
Incidentally, Walter Morel was modeled upon D. H. Lawrence’s own father. On the whole, the portrayal of Walter does correspond to the actual character of Lawrence’s father. However, Lawrence is on record as having said that in this novel he had been unfair to his father. He is believed to have said that, if he were to re-write this novel, he would not portray Walter Morel in such dark colours. Evidently, Lawrence thought that he had exaggerated his father’s faults in portraying Walter Morel.