In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," how can the family's economic condition be described?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
No matter how much money Paul's family has, there never seems to be enough. At the beginning of the story, Paul's family lives in a nice home with a garden and servants. Despite their relative wealth, though, Paul's parents have expensive taste and always believe they do not have enough...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
No matter how much money Paul's family has, there never seems to be enough. At the beginning of the story, Paul's family lives in a nice home with a garden and servants. Despite their relative wealth, though, Paul's parents have expensive taste and always believe they do not have enough money. Both of them make small incomes that are not enough to finance the lifestyle they want. This lifestyle matters to them largely because they seek to maintain their social position. Paul, his parents, and his sisters are considered the poor ones of the family. Even though they do not have the money for an extravagant lifestyle, Paul's parents take out loans to pay for it anyway. Although they are young, Paul and his two sisters are aware of their family's financial strain; at one point, Paul asks his uncle if he knows that people send his mother writs. 
 
To make his house stop whispering about money, Paul begins to bet on racehorses. He ends up being very successful at this, and is soon able to arrange for his mother to receive one thousand pounds every year for five years. This amounts to 5,000 pounds, which was a substantial sum of money. Five thousand pounds in 1926, the year D. H. Lawrence published "The Rocking-Horse Winner," is the equivalent of 274,000 pounds today. To put that in terms of American currency, 274,000 pounds is worth over $340,000. Once Paul's mother receives this money, the whispering in the house gets worse, not better. She spends even more money, paying for Paul to attend Eton for school, filling the house with the smells of almond blossom and mimosa, and purchasing luxurious cushions. No matter how much money Paul's mother has at her disposal, she will always spend more than is available. 
 
With the hope of ending the whispering once and for all, Paul rocks his rocking-horse (which is where he has learned of all the previous winning racehorses) into a frenzy. He does learn the name of the winning horse, though, and bets a lot of money on it prior to becoming unresponsive. Paul was correct in his bet and dies shortly after learning he was successful. Ultimately, Paul leaves his family with over 80,000 pounds, but it is not said whether they use this large sum of money to pay off their debts or if it is used on even more extravagant purchases.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two ways to understand the family's economic condition: objectively and subjectively. Objectively, the family members are well off, with everything they need. They live in a fine house, they have servants and a garden, the children have toys, and the parents feel superior to their neighbors.

Subjectively, however, they never seem to have enough money. An anxiety runs through the household until the walls themselves seem to be saying "there must be more money!"

This sense of "not enough" money comes from the mother, who we are told is not able to love either her husband or children. She is constantly trying to fill the empty space inside herself with things—and no amount of money or things can seem to fill the hole.

When Paul wins the 5,000 pounds at the races and anonymously gives it to his mother, he thinks it will solve the problem, but it only makes things worse. The more the mother gets, the more she wants. The house seems to go frantic with new wants, saying more money is needed "now, now-w!"

Paul is too young to understand that his mother's "needs" are subjective and not rational. The family has enough money, but the mother has other issues to resolve before she can find peace.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We are actually given a very clear description of the family's economic condition towards the beginning of the story. It seems to be clear that the family is not actually badly off, but through the bad management of their money and the need that they have to keep up appearances through consumption of wealth means that they are always in want. Note what the text tells us:

Although they lived in style, they felt always an anxiety in the house. There was never enough money. The mother had a small income, and the father had a small income, but not nearly enough for the social position which they had to keep up... There was always the grinding sense of the shortage of money, though the style was always kept up.

Apparently, Lawrence based this story on a friend (though whether she remained a friend after reading this story is not known) called Lady Cynthia Asquith, who married somebody who did not have enough money and always felt herself to be short of wealth. The suggestion is, however, that if they had not felt it so important to keep up their "social position," they would have had enough to live very comfortably.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on