D.H. Lawrence's seventh novel, Aaron's Rod, was first published in 1922. The work stands as a unique picaresque novel among his works. The book masterfully combines Lawrence's reservations about growing the industrialization in English society and his deep concern with the demands of an inner, freer self that is at the risk of being throttled by the industrial transformation and its associated existential crisis.
Overview: Aaron's Rod
Aaron's Rod tells the story of Aaron Sisson, who works as a Secretary at a colliery in the English Midlands. He is sick of both his work and his unsatisfactory marriage. To bring solace to his alienated self, Aaron plays his flute, because the "pure sound" attracts him. As the plot of the novel unfolds, Aaron is increasingly driven to the sound of his inner being--away from conformity to the prevailing social life. The upshot of the work is an attempt to turn the individual's attention to the spontaneity of his being.
Lawrence is critical of the social manners observed in the daily life of the English. In the chapter "Novara," Aaron becomes the guest of William Frank, where he sees: "the deference of all the guests at table: a touch of obsequiousness, before the money!" This servility of human conduct is revealed as a manifestation of capitalist influence.
Love as a Manner: Aaron's Rod
Even love, as known to the layman, is unveiled not as an "emotion" but as a "manner." The character of Jim Bricknell obtrusively repeats, "Nobody loves me. I need to be loved." Aaron thinks that his wife has made a habit of loving him, and hence should not let him off.
To Lawrence, the eternally present emptiness of existence owes its presence due to the fact that "we are only revealed through our clothes and our masks." Lawrence proclaims "self-abandon in love" as an act of false behavior. The only acceptable form of love for Aaron is like that of two eagles in the mid-air--each bearing upon its own wings while their love reaches consummation. Aaron's neglect of his family is a reaction against the suffocation of his individual self that is being stifled by both alienating work and relationships supposedly grounded in love.
Aaron's Rod also weighs true friendship against other social elements--with friendship winning out. At the end of the novel, he feels like yielding to his friend Rawdon Lilly rather than to any of "the rest"--woman, social ideal, and social institution. In fact, true friendship is shown as a great source of guidance against the hazards of these elements.
In matters of love and power, Lilly suggests a solipsist view, which demands submission not to woman, God, or Nirvana but to one's own soul. Lilly expressly puts it in his words: "There's no goal outside."
Symbolism: Aaron's Rod
Aaron's Rod is rich in symbolism--both from a Biblical viewpoint and from an existential position. In the Old Testament, Moses' brother Aaron carries a rod with miraculous powers. It becomes a serpent that swallows all the other serpents created by Pharaoh's sorcerers. Lawrence's artistic Aaron has a different rod: his flute, which has the miraculous power of redeeming the fettered self from all the noxious forces of life (whether in the form of alienating labor, false love, or social obligations).
Like Aaron's rod of the Old Testament, the flute of Lawrence's Aaron is a symbol of power; but flute has the power of the inner self, which will ultimately oust all things worldly. As the flute is split by the anarchist's bomb blast, Aaron throws the broken pieces into a stream. Lilly remarks, "It'll grow again. It's a reed, a water-plant. You can't kill it." We have no problem recognizing this immortal reed as our free, floating, and lambent self.