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D.H. Lawrence: Critique Of Social Practices (References Snake, The North Country, And The Triumph Of The Machine)

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Category: English

Autor: anton 23 June 2011

Words: 1452 | Pages: 6

Poetry is often used to make critical comment about particular social attitudes and practices. Through a wide range of techniques, D.H. Lawrence uses his poetry as a tool to scrutinise certain aspects of the early 20th century (1855 -1930). Much of his poetry portrays his opinions regarding modernity and industrialisation. In particular, poems such as Snake, The North Country and The Triumph of the Machine consider the effects these issues have on society. Lawrence uses figurative language, changing structure and style in order to present his ideas within the poem Snake. The poem depicts the internal battle between human instinct and social education, which is relative to Freudian theory. Lawrence establishes a negative view of socialisation and conformity by creatively portraying his critiques of particular social expectations. The language, structure and style of Snake depict the increasing distance between humankind and nature, and through this, Lawrence criticises relevant attitudes taught by society. In The North Country, Lawrence reprimands society’s views regarding industrialisation. The use of symbolism, metaphor and repetition in The North Country illustrate Lawrence’s disapproval of a society that worships technology. The Triumph of the Machine challenges the attitude that machinery should be allowed to take the place of what is natural. The imagery used within Triumph condemns the practice of rejecting nature. The use of techniques such as extended metaphor, pathetic fallacy and symbolism helps to convey Lawrence’s criticisms of various social practices, attitudes and expectations prevalent during the 20th century.

One of the main criticisms prominent in Lawrence’s work is that of humankind’s detachment from nature. This is evident in his poem The Triumph of the Machine, in which Lawrence scrutinises the effects of industrialisation, a movement which was instigated by humankind. The poem states that the world has been controlled by technology “for one sad century”, referring to the industrial revolution. Lawrence then describes the brainwashing of humankind, symbolised by the man in the poem, who willingly rejects his most inner, natural drives. This action is portrayed through the use of natural imagery. The poem first focuses on the man’s internal connection to nature, through imagery such as “the lark nests in his heart”, and through metaphor “lambs frisk among the daisies of his brain”. The nature within him is depicted as alive and peaceful. This image is then contrasted with a portrayal of nature’s anger- “the swan will beat the waters in rage”. The man has rejected nature, and is consequently next described as a “mechanical man”. The negative transformation within the man may represent the way in which Lawrence views his society. Lawrence also challenges the attitude that machinery can replace what is natural: “Mechanical man…will be powerless, for no engine can reach into the marshes and depths of a man.” By using this imagery and language, Lawrence depicts the changes within humankind that result from the detachment from nature and the negative ramifications that result from this practice.

The rejection of one’s natural drives and instincts is a practice that was not only tolerated but also encouraged by Lawrence’s society. Within his poetry, Lawrence uses a number of techniques in order to communicate his negative view of this practice. Lawrence frequently alludes to the Freudian theory of the personality. This theory supposes that an individual’s personality is made up of the id, the superego and the ego. The id and superego oppose each other, and the ego acts as a mediator between the two. The term �id’ refers to a layer of consciousness that contains the primitive, natural drives. The term �superego’ refers to a layer that contains ideas of right and wrong instilled by society’s codes and standards. The poem Snake criticises the practice of teaching individuals to conform to social and moral standards, and stereotypical gender roles or codes of conduct. Lawrence draws a comparison between the snake and the unconscious forces of the persona through the use of religious symbolism (temptation). The man’s initial instinct to simply admire the snake may symbolise the natural drive of his id. This is suppressed by the “voices of [his] education”, his superego, which convince him to hurt the snake. Lawrence may be suggesting that as a result of this socialisation, the “root evil of modern Western civilisation” (Christopher Heywood) individuals develop and become controlled by their superego.

The aforementioned ideas are partially established by the structure and changing styles of the poem Snake, which help to establish this idea of an internal battle between natural drives and social expectations. The stanzas referring to the snake are repetitive and almost lyrical. Traditional devices such as assonance and alliteration are employed in phrases such as “And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, / and mused a moment”. The style then changes quite abruptly when describing the log being thrown: “I picked up a clumsy log / and threw it at the water-trough with a clatter”. The language is starkly opposite to that describing the snake. It is harsher, clumsier and uses consonance rather than assonance. The action itself may represent conforming to social expectations, as the man initially tried to ignore the “voices of [his] education” telling him he should hurt the snake. The different styles represent the opposing thoughts and states of mind the man in the poem is experiencing. Lawrence’s use of pathetic fallacy when describing the snake, for example: “seemed to lick his lips” establishes a connection between the man and the snake. Also, this use of this device causes the snake to appear almost human, which further establishes that killing or hurting it would be wrong, as killing humans is considered both socially and morally unacceptable. By using such abrupt language to describe the log being thrown, and constructing the snake as almost human, Lawrence may have been positioning the reader to view this action, and the attitude it represents, as unnatural and negative.

Another practice Lawrence appears to criticise in his poetry is that of worshipping technology. In an international context, the term “North” refers to the richer, most industrialised countries. (The World Directory of Environmental Organisations) If Lawrence intended this interpretation, the country portrayed within the poem would therefore represent all industrialised countries. The tight structure, style and perfect rhyming pattern used within The North Country contribute to the depiction of a large amount of people caught in a trance, mesmerised by machinery. The idea of the machine- induced trance is first alluded to through the use of somewhat hypnotic repetition: “The air is dark with north and with sulphur, / the grass is a darker green, / and people darkly invested with purple move palpable through the scene”. Language choice such as “resonant gloom” and “north-imprisoned” suggest never ending captivity from which the people cannot, or will not awake.

The North Country presents individuals of industrialised countries as one, single, mindless body, under the control of what they themselves created. The imagery within the poem indicates that Lawrence’s main criticism was of humankind allowing itself to become a servant to its own creations. Machinery could not gain power without humans, yet now humans have become subject to what they once controlled. The poem concludes with the suggestion of a force bursting out; however the main focus remains on the image of a land and its people worshipping the machine, which suggests an ignorance to danger only Lawrence can foresee.

The work of D.H. Lawrence, although considered highly contentious, is extremely valuable. Lawrence could not bear to see the world he so loved be taken over by artificiality. The majority of his criticisms derive from his love of nature. His ideas are closely linked to that of psychoanalyst Freud, and focus on the prevalence of the id, which individuals have been taught to reject. Lawrence seems to be suggesting that people should succumb to their natural drives. In the poem Snake, Lawrence criticises the social practice of instilling strict codes of conduct into individuals. He also condemns those who surrender to these social expectations. The Triumph of the Machine illustrates nature’s anger at being replaced by machinery. While acknowledging the power of machinery, Lawrence suggests that it can never fully triumph, as nature alone has the power to penetrate “the marshes and depths of a man”. This suggestion criticises the social attitude that machinery can replace nature, and the act of rejecting nature. Lawrence reprimands those who worship technology in The North Country, through depicting a huge, mindless body of people caught in a machine-induced trance. Lawrence also criticises the act of allowing oneself to be dictated by what is artificial: technology. Lawrence’s poetry, though highly contentious, is nevertheless significant decades later, encouraging readers across time to reconsider the way they view the attitudes and practices of their society.

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