'The Rainbow' Review

Family looking out doorway to bright colorful opportunity
Gail Armstrong / Getty Images

"The Rainbow", published first in 1915, is the complete and exquisitely organized form of D.H. Lawrence's views about familial relationships. The novel relates the story of three generations of an English family — the Brangwens. As the main characters move in and out of the story's framework, readers are brought face-to-face before an intriguing theory of passion and power among the familiar social roles of husbands, wives, children, and parents.

That Lawrence meant "The Rainbow" to be a novel about relationships is manifest in the title of the first chapter: "How Tom Brangwen Married a Polish Lady." A careful reading will make it easy to perceive Lawrence's perception of power-over-passion in a marital relation. Paradoxically, it is the passion that comes first — the passion for power that is inherent in human animals.

How Relationships Play Out

Of young Tom Brangwen, we read, "He had not the power to controvert even the most stupid argument so that he would admit things that he did not in the least believe." And thus Tom Brangwen's quest for power seems to end in love for Lydia, a Polish widow with a little daughter, Anna. From Lydia's pregnancy to childbirth and onwards, Lawrence immerses the reader's consciousness in the subtleties of relationship politics. The story then singles Anna out to elaborate upon the theme of marriage and dominance.

Anna's love for, and subsequent marriage with, William Brangwen ties in with the continued dominance of the patriarchal system in English society of the time. It is in this generation's marital relationship that Lawrence creates a flood of nonconformist questioning of tradition. Anna openly expresses her doubts about the validity of religious traditions of creations. We read her defiant words, "It is impudence to say that Woman was made out of Man's body when every man is born of a woman."

Banning and Controversy 

Given the zeitgeist of the time, it is no wonder that all copies of "The Rainbow" were seized and burnt. The novel was not published in Britain for 11 years. More ulterior motives for this reaction against the book, perhaps, include the fear of sharpness of Lawrence's openness in divulging man's inner weaknesses and the reluctance to accept the helpless dependence that is essentially materialistic in nature.

As the story enters the third generation, the author focuses on the most grasping character of the book, namely, Ursula Brangwen. The first instance of Ursula's negation of biblical teachings is her natural reaction against her younger sister, Theresa.

Theresa hits Ursula's other cheek — turned to her in response to the first blow. Unlike the devoted-Christian action, Ursula reacts like a normal child by shaking the wee offender in a subsequent quarrel. Ursula develops into a highly individualistic character giving her creator (Lawrence) a free hand to explore a taboo subject: homosexuality. The gravity of Ursula's passion for her teacher Miss Winifred Inger and the description of their physical contact is aggravated by Miss Inger's negation of the falsehood of religion.

The Failed Relationship

Ursula's love for the Polish young man Anton Skrebensky is D.H. Lawrence's inversion of the command of dominance between patriarchal and matriarchal values. Ursula falls for a man from her maternal line of descent (Lydia was Polish). Lawrence renders the relationship a failure. Love-and-Power becomes Love-or-Power in Ursula's case.

The individualistic spirit of the new age, of which Ursula Brangwen is the prime representative, keeps our young heroine from following the long-established tradition of marital enslavement and dependence. Ursula becomes a teacher at a school and, despite her weaknesses, persists in living on her own instead of giving up her studies and job for her love.

The Meaning of 'The Rainbow'

Like all his novels, "The Rainbow" testifies for D.H. Lawrence's prodigy of keeping the ideal proportion between the constructive and expressive quality of the novel. Of course, we appreciate Lawrence for the wonderful insight and the quality of putting into words what otherwise could only be felt deep in ourselves.

In "The Rainbow", Lawrence does not rely heavily on symbolism for the novel's meaningfulness. The story stands on its own. Still, the title of the novel symbolizes the whole scene of the story. The last passage of the novel is the crux of Lawrence's symbolic quality of the narrative. Sitting alone and watching a rainbow in the sky, we are told about Ursula Brangwen: "she saw in the rainbow the earth's new architecture, the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories swept away, the world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the over-arching heaven."

We know that a rainbow in mythology, especially in the biblical tradition, is a symbol of peace. It showed Noah that the biblical flood was finally over. So, too, the flood of power and passion is over in Ursula's life. It's the flood that had prevailed for generations.​

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Dempsey, Ernest. "'The Rainbow' Review." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-rainbow-review-741176. Dempsey, Ernest. (2020, August 27). 'The Rainbow' Review. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-rainbow-review-741176 Dempsey, Ernest. "'The Rainbow' Review." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-rainbow-review-741176 (accessed July 25, 2021).