Study Guide

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

The Rocking-Horse Winner Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins with the deceptively simple and formulaic language of the fairy tale: “There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck.” This language underscores the inappropriateness of a life lived, as Hester lives it, in the belief that just as in fairy tales, luck and happiness are unpredictable because they come from the outside rather than being matters over which the individual exercises some control.

The supernatural elements in the story, rather than providing an opportunity for escape, augment its sense of reality. The futility of the materialistic quest, and its lack of destination, are well symbolized in Paul’s frantic riding of his rocking horse. That the house whispers “There must be more money” seems not so much a supernatural or magical element as a brilliantly sustained metaphor for the unspoken messages that shape and often take over the life of a family. In all, the story is a brilliant study in the sustained use of symbolism to suggest with bold economy the death-dealing consequences of the substitution of money for love.

The Rocking-Horse Winner (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Paul, the protagonist of this haunting story, is a sensitive boy who would do anything to gain and keep his mother’s love. Though she is beautiful, talented, well-bred, and blessed with three lovely children, she is preoccupied by her lack of luck. Luck, to the mother, is what brings you money. Father is not lucky, for the family does not have the means to live in style. The anxious children, especially the morbidly perceptive Paul, hear their house whisper, “There must be more money.”

Paul longs to silence the house and his mother’s creditors. After discussing racetrack lore with the family gardener, Paul furiously rides his rocking-horse. During the wild, rhythmic plunging, the nearly hypnotized Paul “knows” the name of the horse that will win big at the next race. With the trustworthy gardener to place his bets, Paul rapidly accumulates a heady sum.

With his uncle’s help, Paul arranges a birthday surprise for his mother--one thousand pounds annually for the next five years. He eagerly watches his mother open her mail only to find that she wants, and gains, all five thousand pounds at once. The voices of the house go mad as the mother redecorates, fills the rooms with flowers and the nursery with new toys. “There must be more money” becomes a scream, not a whisper.

Paul returns to his frantic late-night rides. He feels that he must “know” for the Derby because his mother, still cool, remote, and dissatisfied, longs to live in greater style. Even she realizes that something is wrong with Paul, who has grown overwrought and feverish. Entering his room late at night, she hears the rhythmic plunge of the rocking-horse. Paul collapses in a brain fever as he mutters over and over “Malabar,” the name of the horse to win the Derby. The gardener bets Paul’s money as planned; his mother is 80,000 pounds to the good. “I am lucky,” are Paul’s dying words.

The Rocking-Horse Winner Historical Context

The Modern Era
Lawrence was writing during the early part of the twentieth century, and he, like most writers of the day, was...

(The entire section is 211 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner Literary Style

Style
The opening paragraphs of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" are written in a style similar to that of a fairy tale. Instead of...

(The entire section is 250 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner Compare and Contrast

  • Then: The financial circumstances experienced by the family in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" are shared by many upper-class...

(The entire section is 177 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner Topics for Further Study

  • Although the children's father is mentioned in "The Rocking-Horse Winner," he never actually appears. Why do you think the mother's...

(The entire section is 87 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner Media Adaptations

  • The Rocking-Horse Winner was filmed in 1950 by Two Cities Films and stars John Mills and Valerie Hobson. The adaptation was...

(The entire section is 47 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner What Do I Read Next?

  • The Collected Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence (1974) is the complete collection of Lawrence's short stories.
  • ...

(The entire section is 93 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Harris, Janice Hubbard. The Short Fiction of D. H. Lawrence. Rutgers University Press, 1984, pp. 1-11, 224-27....

(The entire section is 103 words.)

The Rocking-Horse Winner Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Cowan, James C. D. H. Lawrence: Self and Sexuality. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002. A sensible examination of the complex nature of Lawrence’s considerations of sexual behavior in his work.

Kearney, Martin F. Major Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence: A Handbook. New York: Garland, 1998. “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is one of six Lawrence stories treated here. Each one receives comprehensive discussion, including an account of the history of its composition and publication, as well as critical analysis.

Poplawski, Paul, ed. Writing the Body in D. H. Lawrence: Essays on Language, Representation, and Sexuality. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. An uneven but often enlightening series of essays on some of Lawrence’s central concerns, tending toward theoretical considerations of Lawrence’s writing.

Reeve, N. H. Reading Late Lawrence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Especially incisive discussions of Lawrence’s later works of fiction.

Worthen, John. D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint, 2005. An informative, knowledgeable account of Lawrence’s life by the author of the first volume of an acclaimed three-book Cambridge University Press biography.