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The mother is all-important in the story. D. H. Lawrence makes it clear in the first paragraph that she does not love her children and that all three of them can sense it. Paul is not interested in winning money for the sake of the money; he wants to make his mother happy, and he hopes that he will win her love. The rocking-horse was an inspiration. Paul is rocking because of anxiety and frustration, as many children will do when they are experiencing a serious emotional problem. Instead of rocking himself on the floor or on his bed, he uses his familiar rocking-horse. The idea occurs to him while rocking that the horse might take him to where the "luck" is. There is a touch of the supernatural in the story, but it could be entirely coincidental that Paul thinks of the name of the winning horse while rocking. His mother is never satisfied. When she gets some of the winnings through Paul's uncle, she thinks of more things she wants money for. This only causes Paul more anxiety. He keeps rocking harder and harder until he kills himself. It is not exactly greed that makes the mother want more and more money. She seems to be mainly motivated by the desire to maintain her social status and to elevate it higher, if possible. Paul is only motivated by the simple desire to impress his mother and win her love.
Mrs. Torres' role in the story is an awfully sad one. She is the one who sends him on the errand, believing in her son, but also recognizing that there is little that he has shown to validate her own opinions of him. The constant refrain he offers of "becoming a man" is something that she herself wishes to believe, but has little idea of in terms of his action. At the same time, I think that she recognizes that when her son kills someone, in some form, he has become "a man." It is interesting to note that Steinbeck also uses Mama Torres as a force of foreshadowing, as she is the one who starts the "formal wail of mourning." Even though her son is alive, she knows how this will end and recognizes that the desire for her son "to become a man" is what will inevitably push him towards his own destruction. Mama Torres' role is to thus operate as a parent who must outlive her own child. There is a great deal of pain in Mama Torres, reflecting how Steinbeck feels about the modern predicament. While so many advances have marked the modern setting, there are still parents who mourn the futile deaths of their children, the wails of pain and remourse that are unable to be silenced despite so much in way of progress and advancement. In this, Mama Torres' role becomes significant in the story and its thematic growth.
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