drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence
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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner" what secrets do the various characters keep from one another?

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The mother of the boy and two girls pretends to totally adore her children yet keeps to herself the fact that “at the center of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love for any person." Paul is the little boy, and one of his sisters...

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The mother of the boy and two girls pretends to totally adore her children yet keeps to herself the fact that “at the center of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love for any person." Paul is the little boy, and one of his sisters is named Joan. The mother is named Hester.

Paul also has what the text calls a “secret of secrets.” He rides his rocking horse in order to know the winning horse at the derby. This is a secret he keeps to himself until the very end when he is dying. His death is brought on by a brain fever that he catches as he waits to “really know” the winning horse in one of the derbies. Two nights before this derby, Hester finds her son violently rocking his rocking horse in his room. He proclaims that the winning horse will be Malabar, and then he falls unconscious. He wins seventy thousand dollars by betting on Malabar while lying on his deathbed and altogether leaves behind eighty thousand dollars for his never-contented mother. It is sad that Paul does all this just so that he can make enough money to keep his family from always wanting more money—to stop the house from whispering “there must be more money!”

Paul, Uncle Oscar, and Bassett have a secret partnership placing bets on racing horses. They make money based on Paul’s predictions. When Paul is “really sure” about a certain horse winning, they always make money on their bets. However, there are times when Paul does not know for sure which is the winning horse, and in those cases they lose.

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The mother does not love her children. This is a secret she and the children know, but not the rest of the world, which thinks she "adores" them. The mother feels she must "cover up" some "fault" in herself. She doesn't know what the fault is, but it is related to her inability to love.

The big secret that the family shares but is "unspoken" is the need for more money. The house itself seems to breathe that need saying over and over "There must be more money!" However, it is always just a whisper and never said aloud. It is the secret that dominates them.

Paul internalizes that need for more money. However, he keeps it a secret from his mother that he is the one winning the race money. How he does it is also kept from his mother.

The money, which isn't really needed, but wanted, is the way the mother tries to fill the "fault" in herself, but no amount will ever be enough to do that.

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All the major characters in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" keep secrets. Hester does not love her children but she acts as if she does. She keeps this secret that she does not love them. In spite of this, the children seem to know the secret:

Everybody else said of her: "She is such a good mother. She adores her children." Only she herself, and her children themselves, knew it was not so. They read it in each other's eyes.

Hester keeps another secret from Paul by omission. She explains to him that luck "causes you to have money." Hester is not really keeping a secret per se, but she is giving Paul a limited view about what "luck" means. Since she is so focused on money, she omits that luck or good fortune might involve other things: love, family, health, etc.

Paul, in a generous attempt to surprise his mother with money ("luck"), kept it a secret that he could predict the winners of horse races by riding his nameless rocking-horse. Oscar and Bassett also keep this to themselves, not telling Hester or Paul's father. "Paul's secret of secrets was his wooden horse, that which had no name." It wasn't until the end, just before he died, that he admitted he was "lucky."

The more troubling secret that Hester keeps from Paul and others is that she spends all of Paul's winnings on things for the house (and, presumably, a fur coat for herself). Rather than pay her debts, she spends the money selfishly and frivolously.

Hester did express concern for her children but she did not love them and she was preoccupied with money. So, it's difficult to say whether or not she would have thanked Paul or intervened if she had known he was responsible for giving her the money.

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