Narcissism issues, as I have argued, are found in each generation of the Brangwens. Ursula, as the representation of the last generation, does seem to overcome her narcissism in the novel’s final pages. Nevertheless, in Women in Love, Lawrence’s sequel to The Rainbow, Lawrence continues his exploration of narcissism and the destruction it causes. According to Lydia Blanchard in “Women in Love: Mourning Becomes Narcissism,” “Women in Love is centrally concerned with narcissism and narcissistic rage . . . all four major characters are isolated, unable to connect with others. All have either broken with their past or live in an unhealthy relationship to it” (106-107). This would suggest that Ursula’s transcendence of narcissism at the end of The Rainbow is not permanent.
All of the Brangwens indeed show progress at times towards overcoming narcissism and yet still slide back into old patterns. This back and forth movement of growth and regression, as previously noted, is typical of human psychological life. Tom finds that he cannot stand on his own as a man and a father once he has lost the latter role due to Anna’s rejection of him. Anna decides to bury herself in bearing children and enjoying pleasures of the flesh rather than following her instincts to move “beyond.” Will displays a strong façade but needs to feed off others in order to bolster his weak sense of self. Ursula encounters the most starts and stops in trying to become an individual without the need for merger with an idealized Other. Eventually Ursula finds her faith in the stability of herself and others.
According to Kohut, the “self [is] ‘the core of the personality,’ the center of human initiative with its own motivational force aiming toward ‘the realization of its own specific programme of action’” (Freud and Beyond 164-165). In The Rainbow, the “kernel” that is in each Brangwen represents and dramatizes that core. The entire arc of the novel is centered around the idea that the core self must stand on its own. The Brangwens must accept that the self is not just a cog in a machine but also a vital entity that must be acknowledged as both a piece of something larger and a bounded individual. When Ursula looks out of her window at the novel’s end, she sees the people below as individuals, and she acknowledges that she is like them and vice versa. She knows that she is a part of a special machine, but that that machine does not need to define her. Ursula can be a part of something larger; she can be a part of something without overwhelming it or becoming overwhelmed by it. Ursula has come to understand herself and to see that self for what it is: changeable. Whether or not Ursula has definitely overcome her narcissism by the end of the novel is perhaps questionable, but the shell has been cracked; there is a vital, new self underneath that has seen daylight at last; she is on her way.