In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," what is the tone, theme, and setting?
"The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D. H . Lawrence is a masterful story in suspense and horror. The action takes place in England in the years just after the First World War. The places include a home in London; London's Richmond Park; and Lincoln Racecourse in Lincoln, Lincolnshire around the late 1920s. Since the story was published in 1926, one can assume the late 1920s.
The tone is one of mysterious irony. The Rocking-Horse takes great pains to create a generally realistic atmosphere and to have its characters respond to external stimuli in the ways that “normal” people would. Details such as the picking of winning horses through a frenzied and debilitating ride on a rocking-horse, are central to the unfolding of the narrative.
It is the desire for more money that motivates all of the characters. The most blatant evidence of the family’s obsession with riches appears in Uncle Oscar’s attempt to console his sister after her son’s death: “My God, Hester, you’re eighty-odd thousand to the good and a poor devil of a son to the bad” (244)—as if he were enumerating her assets and liabilities on an imaginary balance sheet.
Paul’s frenzied pursuit of money differs from the greed of the others in that he wants wealth not for himself but for his mother. Clearly he hopes that, by being “luckier” than his father, he will win his mother’s love and attention.
Paul, intent upon stopping the whispers in the house, anonymously gives his mother 5,000 pounds as a birthday present. Ironically, his gift has the opposite effect. The whispers grow louder. Given his mother’s insatiable greed for money, this result comes as less of a surprise to the reader than to Paul. There is irony in the story’s title. Paul, the rocking-horse winner, loses his life.
The theme of the story can be stated as follows: The love of money is destructive of all other love, and even of life itself.