Discuss the aspect of luck in the story "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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D. H. Lawrence's story "The Rocking Horse Winner" might be compared with "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs. Both stories have an uncanny quality insofar as Paul and Mr. White both seem to be having their wishes granted by some supernatural source. In both stories, however, it is apparent that what is happening could be only coincidental. As far as Paul is concerned, every gambler has experienced what are commonly called "lucky streaks." These streaks of luck feel uncanny to the gambler. It is as if some magical power is at work in his behalf. It can be exhilarating and hypnotic. But these lucky streaks inevitably come to an end and often turn into just their opposites, which are called "losing streaks." A realistic view of D. H. Lawrence's story would have to be that Paul just happens to have a lucky streak. He is "on a roll," as athletes say. There cannot be a serious connection between riding a rocking horse and guessing the name of the winning horse in a particular race. But horse players, like all gamblers, can have lucky streaks during which they can hardly seem to go wrong. Paul does mention that he only wins when he feels absolutely sure of the name of the winning horse. This suggests that he is not winning on every single bet he places. When one of his horses fails to come in first, he can attribute that to the fact that he was not "absolutely sure" when he guessed the name. This is not emphasized in the story. What is important is that Paul is winning on most of his bets.

What happens to Mr. and Mrs. White in "The Monkey's Paw" could have been sheer coincidence too. In that story the mysterious mummified paw is only supposed to grant three wishes, so the element of coincidence could be much greater than in "The Rocking Horse Winner," where Paul seems to be picking dozens of winners. The Whites' son Herbert might have gotten mangled in the machinery because he stayed up later than usual the night before talking to their very interesting guest. If he stayed up later than usual, he probably drank more whisky than usual too. So he could have gotten to the factory tired and hungover, leading to carelessness and slower reflexes, and causing him to get mangled by the unsafe machine he was operating. The fact that his company paid Mr. White the exact sum he had wished for could have been a simple coincidence. The knocking at the door seems dreadful because the reader has been led to believe that the monkey's paw has granted the first wish and must now be granting the second one. But it takes the old couple a long time to answer the door. It could have been a motorist knocking at the door, wanting to ask directions or to use the telephone, and having driven off to try elsewhere while Mr. White was wishing for the knocker to go away.

What is most striking about "The Rocking Horse Winner" is the desperate way in which Paul rides his wooden horse. His rocking does not really inspire him to pick winners but is a symptom of his anxiety. This sort of behavior is often to be observed in emotionally disturbed children. The unhappy boy wants his mother to love him, and he knows intuitively that she doesn't love him. He tries in the only way he can think of to win her love. It is ironic that as he is dying he tells her he is lucky. The mother, like Mr. White in "The Monkey's Paw," has gotten her wish for money, but at a terrible cost. She failed to realize that the love her son could have given her, and was trying so hard to give her, was infinitely more valuable than the money she received.

The moral of "The Rocking Horse Winner" might be said to be the Biblical quotation repeated by the Pardoner in his story in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: "Radix malorum est cupiditas." "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence was first published in 1926.  The setting for the story is just after World War I in
England. The narration is from third person omniscient point of view.  the story has the qualities of a fable and a fairy tale. There are subtle supernatural elements that serve to further the action of the story. 

Luck and money are at the heart of the story.  The main character  or protagonist is Paul, a young, sensitive, trusting boy who very much wants to earn his mother's love by acquiring money. Something tells Paul that the family and most particularly his mother needed financial gain.

'Why are we, Mother?'[poor]

'Well--I suppose,' she said slowly and bitterly, 'it's because your father has no luck.'

'Is luck money, Mother?' he asked, rather timidly.

'No Paul. Not quite. It's what causes you to have money!'

To the mother, money meant status, appearances, class. All of these elements were more important than love.

The young boy becomes obsessed with acquiring the money his mother wants or needs. His rocking-horse becomes the tangible symbol of his quest  to earn the money.  He seeks a great prize, luck, that will enable him to win money wagering on horses. His winnings will free his mother from a great monster-- indebtedness-- that consumes all of her attention. Once free, she will be able to turn her attention to Paul and give him the greatest prize of all: love.

Successfully bonding with Bassett, the stable hand, Paul earns more and more money.  Paul seems to have an uncanny gift of knowing who will win at horse racing. Eventually, through his winnings, he proposes to anonymously give his mother 1,000 pounds every year for five years.  Greed consumes his mother who decides that she wants the entire amount now. Paul consents. 

As Paul becomes more and more frenzied about winning, his body begins to wear down.  When that happens, he appears no longer able to predict the winner.  Finally, his mother sees Paul riding his horse like a madman and realizes that her son is feverish and gravely ill.

On his death bed, Paul predicts the winner.  A bet is placed and Paul's choice wins profiting his mother a great deal of money  Before he dies, Paul regains consciousness to tell his mother:

'I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I'm absolutely sure--oh, absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!'

'No, you never did,' said the mother.

Now, Paul's mother understands that her son gave everything to please her.  She does love him, but it is too late.  The poor boy did go out of this life a lucky winner.


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