How can I employ the formalist method of close reading on the first paragraph in "The Rocking Horse Winner" (as formalists claimed we can find out most of the important facts about the story from there)?
Since Formalism excludes the philosophy of the author or the cultural or historical context, it will not include an analysis of "The Rocking Horse Winner" from the perspective of D. H. Lawrence's abhorrence for the preoccupation with money that places such social constraints upon people in society. Instead, it will examine, interpret, or evaluate simply the features of the text that are inherent in it, such as the diction, tone, and motifs. Therefore, a formalist analysis of the opening paragraph of "The Rocking Horse Winner," will identify the following:
- The diction of the narrative
The story begins much like a fairy tale:
There was a woman who was beautiful,...yet she had no luck. She had bonny children...yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. They looked at her coldly....
While it begins in fairy tale fashion, the narrative yet seems haunted as there is a certain something that is amiss in this family. There is no harmony or flow of energies among the members of the family.
- The tone of the story
There is an anxious tone to the first paragraph as Lawrence writes repeats the idea of the mother's lack of maternal feeling for her children and the children's cold looks:
She felt she must cover up some fault in herself....when her children were present, she always felt the centre of her heart go hard.
The mother and the children recognize this barrier among them: "They read it in each other's eyes."
- The motifs introduced into the narrative
In this first paragraph, the motif of social constraints is suggested by the fact that the woman has married for love, but "love turned to dust" and she feels that her children "had been thrust upon her and she could not love them." Yet, "in her manner she was all the more gentle and anxious for her children, as if she loved them very much" so that others will think that she does love them very much.
There is also the motif of desire for something more than one has as Lawrence writes that the mother feels she must hide something about herself of which she is not aware."Yet what it was that she must cover up, she never knew."
Certainly, the first paragraph of "The Rocking Horse Winner" establishes the context for the action of the story as it suggests that the anxiety of the mother will elicit reactions from the children; furthermore, there are other forces at work in the interrelationship of mother and child without consideration of the father, as he is not mentioned.