Individualism and Paradox in the Works of D. H. Lawrence
When you read something by D. H. Lawrence, you often end up wondering the same thing: does he hate people? Lawrence has a profound interest in us human beings, but it's the fascination of a child picking at a scab that drives him, rather than a kind of scientific or spiritual quest for some mythical "social truth." Some of Lawrence's works--"Insouciance," for example--question mankind's tendencies outright: what good is served by a world of "white-haired ladies" wasting time "caring" and sounding intelligent and cultured and talking about pretentious, bourgeois issues?(2)
But this work is blatant in its negative ...view middle of the document...
By the end we cannot, with certainty, tell whether Lawrence hates people or not--and this reflects a sort of internal struggle for Lawrence.
One could lessen the scope and dilute the importance of this topic by suggesting that the "Sunday people" Lawrence criticizes are not humanity as a whole but rather a specific group--perhaps the vacationing, upper-middle class Schlegels, perhaps the aspiring, pseudo-intellectual Leonard Basts of the lower middle class, who think culture lies in a misunderstood walk through the woods. So an important related question to our topic is this: if he does hate people, who are they? For me, Lawrence's "hate" extends to some extent to everyone, even me. In fact, I'm probably a perfect example of the kind of person that Lawrence hates: conforming, petty, ambitious and a little greedy, as most people are. Worst of all, from Lawrence's perspective, I idealize: I care as much about "the news" as I do the squirrels who are constantly fighting outside my dorm; I ignore personal relationships so I can write essays on one defunct writer or another--all because it is expected. In almost all of Lawrence's work I see a little of myself, and it is not a pretty reflection. I'd like to imagine that Lawrence turns the magnifying glass on himself too, but "Mercury" does not really suggest this. But despite what I think, this secondary question of who is difficult to answer definitively. Though it is of great importance to my subject, I cannot claim to know the answer--I can only pose the question. We each must come to a personal conclusion as we study Lawrence--try to keep this question in mind as I describe the story and its relation to our original question: does Lawrence hate people?
"It was Sunday, and very hot." From the very first line of "Mercury", Lawrence makes a buried commentary on society, religion in this case. There is something ironic in the hot, almost hellish Sunday that Lawrence describes--he continues to make extensive use of heat imagery throughout the first half of the story: "The hot sun burned overhead, and all was in steam." 1 I suppose that from a certain angle the idea of a special, pious day is somewhat ridiculous, as if that could possibly excuse our nastiness on the other six days. And then there's the matter of the old tablet-stone and altar, which the Sunday-people set aside and ignore. Here we see what happens to religions once a new, improved "brand" comes about--a pitiful fate for once important religious iconography. Whether or not Lawrence is actually anti-religion seems difficult to determine from the information presented in "Mercury"; however, it seems clear that the religious status quo does not entirely satisfy him.
And when we reach the top of the hill of Mercury, "there is nothing for us to do."(1)
What matter? We have come a stride beyond the world. Let it steam and cook its half-baked reality below there. On the hill of Mercury we take no...