Categorize and describe each character in this story as a major or minor character.  Also, explain any foreshadowing in this story.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Foreshadowing involves sentences, phrases, and words that act as clues or suggestions of what is to come in a narrative. Often there is an apparent incongruity with what might be expected. For instance, in the opening paragraph of the exposition, D. H. Lawrence writes of the mother,

Only she herself knew that at the center of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody.

These lines suggest that the mother lacks the unconditional love that is expected. In the next paragraph, the omniscient narrator explains,

Although they lived in style, they [the children] felt always an anxiety in her house. There was never enough money.

Here, then, the lack of love by the mother, the children and the lack of money are connected in some way that will be revealed further in the narrative. There is a tension in this connection, as well.

And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money!

The mother's obsession with money as a status and goal hints that others in the family may be driven to obtain money or their relationship with the mother will involve money in some way.

Minor Characters

  • Miss Wilmot - She is a nursemaid/governness hired to take care of the children. However, when she tells Paul that he will break the wooden horse by riding it so hard, he does not obey; instead he glares at her, so she "gave him up," deciding he is too grown for her, anyway.
  • Joan - She is the elder sister who complains of Paul's riding the horse incessantly: "I wish he'd leave off!" She also reveals to Uncle Oscar that Paul talks about horses to Bassett.
  • The other sister - This character is only mentioned as part of the family; for example, while in the nursery with her sister, the girls "peer at him uneasily" when Paul rides his rocking horse.
  • Paul's father - He is categorized by Hester as "unlucky" and is mostly an absent figure. His only spoken words are uttered after he and Hester return home from a party and Hester hears Paul cry "It's Malabar!" in a "powerful, strange voice." When asked by Hester what Paul means, "'I don't know,' said the father stonily."

Major Characters

  • Bassett - He is the gardener who talks with Paul about racehorses and becomes his partner as in a safe he holds for Paul his winnings. "He lived in the racing events, and the small boy lived with him." When Uncle Oscar questions Bassett about Paul, Bassett refers to him as "a young sport, a fine sport, sir" and requests that Oscar ask Paul himself if he bets.
    Later, Uncle Oscar questions him about Paul's winnings;"It's as if he had it from heaven," Bassett replies, telling Oscar about his and Paul's good fortune. In a "religious voice," he says, "It's as if he had it from heaven," referring to the luck of Paul. 
  • Uncle Oscar - Besides owning a car and a home in Hampshire, he has inherited the family fortune and is in better financial condition that his sister Hester, Paul and the girls. When he learns that Paul bets on the horses and wins, Oscar at first treats Paul's actions as merely whimsical. But, when Paul continues to win, he exploits the boy's powers for his advantage and bets himself--even when the boy falls ill before the Derby-- winning considerable sums of money. Promising not to reveal the source of Paul's winnings, he channels the money through a lawyer who remits it to Hester. Further, he conspires with Paul and does not reveal the boy's obsession with winning bets on horse races.
  • Hester - Paul's mother suffers from money-lust, and this money-lust creates the money-fear in her son. Worried about social position, she keeps her job a secret and she desires the fine things that money can buy. Materialistic, Hester is unlucky as the father has been unfortunate in not having money:

She married for love, and the love turned to dust. She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. They looked at her coldly, as if they were finding fault with her....They read it [the hard place in her heart] in each other's eyes.

When Paul has his winnings sent to her, he secretly watches her face as she opens the envelop containing the notes. At first Hester's face is expressionless; then, it takes on "a cold determined look." Later, Paul questions her about finding something "nice in the post for your birthday?" She replies in an absent tone that is even cold: "Quite moderately nice."

Even when she becomes anxious about Paul's health, it is "almost anguish," not real feeling.  "[F]eeling her heart had gone, turned actually into a stone," Hester, having lived her life with the goal of acquisition of wealth, faces the consequences of her greed: her son is dead. Materialism has stripped her of feeling and Paul of life.

  • Paul - Hester's son becomes a martyr of materialism as he seeks his mother's love through the acquisition of wealth because he perceives that she desires money. He tells his uncle that the house cries out for money, and if he is lucky, then his mother will be happy and love him. Paul depicts the blurring of imagination and reality as his horse is symbolic of his mother's persistent desire for wealth and his anxiety and attempts to allay her worries. In a sense, he takes on the role that belongs to his "unlucky" father. Thus, Paul feels responsibility for providing his mother, a burden too heavy for a child. It seems, too, that Paul has made a pact with a supernatural force as he rides frenetically as though to be put into a trance and pass through a dimension in order to learn secrets not known to the mundane.
Read the study guide:
The Rocking-Horse Winner

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