In looking at D.L. Lawrence’s novel Women in Love, we immediately notice his use of gender roles and the lack of conformity by the women to what was the standard. Women in Love basically supports the spreading of typical gender roles, that is being the “women serving, men receiving” concept. However, as we read the story we come to understand that many of the characters do not conform to this typical role. As I examined the relationships made in the story and the attitudes of the characters, the meaning in resisting conformity became very clear.
When looking at Ursula and Birkin’s relationship, we understand that they are striving to establish separate gender roles in their exchange. This was described as the relationship between Adam and Eve. In many places throughout the novel Ursula makes it known that she is open and wants to become an equal to Birkin; but, he is strongly against the idea. He notes that their relationship is at a place of equilibrium and should not be disrupted, believing that they both complement each other as opposed to become each other. Birkin’s thoughts are that men and women have different natures and must be distinctly different to sync with each other. She continues to follow, maintaining the different personalities and role of the relationship.
Lawrence continued to describe the distinctness of their individual roles when he expressed their first sexual encounter. “…She had her desire fulfilled, he had his desire fulfilled. For she was him what he was to her …immemorial magnificence of mystic, palpable,…” (Lawrence, p.320) This was to solidify the idea that they satisfied each other’s needs, and only a member of the opposite sex is the only one who can provide that.
Upon the examination of the relationship between Gerald and Gudrun, it is clear to see that they strive to be equals. They both try to please each other and themselves in the same ways. One way Lawrence describes this is through violence taken out on animals. Gudrun has taken both violent steps toward cows and also by hitting Gerald. This stems from their constant need to intimidate each other; however, they each openly understand that they want to have the same role in their relationship. “I believe in love, in a real abandon, if you’re capable of it,… and so do I.” (Lawrence, p. 290)
To some contrast of Ursula and Birkin’s sexual encounter, it is established that Gerald and Gudrun’s was quite different. Instead of complementing each other to satisfaction, they took on the same role and are dissatisfied due to not giving anything that is a significant part of their gender.
Early on in the story Ursula does not come off to be a person making too many of her own decisions. She was very hesitant in her actions to being speaking with Birkin when he first broke up with Hermione. Later on in their budding romance when she starts to feel love for him, she remained neutral in her actions, not showing any signs. This is Lawrence’s was of portraying the woman’s role of being approached by the man. Alternatively, Gudrun does not wait to be approach and selected by the man she wants. In fact, early on in their conversations she starts to direct it into the topic of their relationship. This established that Gudrun avoided her gender role and selected Gerald.
Although Birkin and Gerald start out as enemies, it does not take too long for them to realize that they are brothers-in-law and need to get along. In establishing their new friendship they make pledges to one another, taking steps to solidify their bond with one another. Gudrun is not pleased with the new friendship but Ursula does not resist it.
In conclusion, women’s oppression of gender roles on societies call for the undervalued roles with given power, rather than having their own. Women in Love creates a view that women should simply exist in the typical gender role, such as not attempting to go after what you want; but, waiting for it to come to you. In the end, Ursula is compensated by having a husband she loves and is happy performing in her gender role; and, Gudrun’s inability to abide by her gender role had led her to an unhappy life, unable to find real love.
- Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. (P. 290, 320)