How is the mother in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence characterized?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence, Paul's mother, Hester, is not an admirable woman in any way. She claims she has no luck, yet in the opening lines of the story we learn that she is beautiful, married for love, and has beautiful children. She "started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck." Her love "turned to dust," and though her children are lovely, she feels as if "they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them." She had a good life, but she chose to ruin it.

As a mother, Hester is a mess and does not really know how to fix herself.

[W]hen her children were present, she always felt the centre of her heart go hard. This troubled her, and in her manner she was all the more gentle and anxious for her children, as if she loved them very much. Only she herself knew that at the centre of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody. 

Hester is clearly not a good mother, as she has to work hard just to feel "as if" she loves them.

Hester also lives in a constant state of discontent. She calls herself unlucky and she feels as if she can never have enough. Though her family lives in a fine house in a superior neighborhood and has servants and nice things, Hester is not satisfied and wants more--plus she has expensive tastes. She worries about why she is not successful, failing to measure success by a loving husband, two lovely children, and a fine home. She knows the fault is in her, which adds to her discontent. 

Hester is ungrateful. Though she constantly feels as if she needs more, when she gets it she is not thankful. In fact, she just wants more. Paul manages to gift her with some money, but she immediately spends it on worthless things and wants more, all without ever expressing any thankfulness or gratitude. It is as if she thinks she deserves it, though, ironically, she also feels unworthy. 

Hester was not born unlucky, but she creates an unlucky life. When Paul begins to seem unwell, she is mildly concerned. The narrator refers to her as "the heart-frozen mother," and it is an apt description. When her son actually dies, she remains unmoved; the last lines of the story are spoken by her brother and they are about money, not Paul.

Hester is characterized by her own selfishness and discontent. Since these are things created not by her circumstances but by her choices, she is not a sympathetic character. What happens to her is bad, but because she does not particularly care, neither do we. We do not know specifically what will happen to her after Paul dies, but we do know that she will spend everything her son left her and will then want more. None of it will make her happy and we remain unmoved by her plight. 

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The Rocking-Horse Winner

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