Discuss the application of Marxist literary theory in D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner." 

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In Karl Marx's 1844 "The Power of Money," he writes

It [money, property] is therefore regarded as an omnipotent being. Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence...

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In Karl Marx's 1844 "The Power of Money," he writes

It [money, property] is therefore regarded as an omnipotent being. Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person.

He goes on to say

The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my—the possessor’s—properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness—its deterrent power—is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has . . . Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

Marx in these passages explains that, in his view, money acts as an all powerful God [is omnipotent] in capitalist society. It changes how a person is perceived. It gives an individual godlike powers and transforms a deficient person into one other's revere and admire. The deficient person can use money to pretend to become whatever he or she wants to be or to get what he or she otherwise wouldn't be able to have—like a beautiful spouse. Money is all-important in capitalist society.

We can easily see how Paul's mother has a capitalist's view of money. She is a member of the bourgeoisie, the class Marx believed lived to suck all the money out of the rest of society. The bourgeoisie, who he thought produced nothing of any value, exploited the laboring or working classes, paying them next to nothing for their work and extracting the difference between the cost of their labor and the price of the goods they produced to finance lavish lifestyles. The rich lived high, he thought, on the backs of the poor.

Paul's mother is obsessed with money. It is more important to her than her own children. As the text says, she is incapable of loving her children. However, she does love money. Clearly, too, it fills a gap for her between her perceived inadequacy—she never feels she is good enough—and the powerful self she would like to be. Money, Marx would say, warps her relationships with other people.

If Hester is the bourgeoisie, Paul, her own son, is the exploited proletariat, worked to death to supply her with luxuries. Like most bourgeoisie, Paul's mother has no idea of the cruel conditions that fund her life: she doesn't know that her little boy is rocking himself past the point of exhaustion to supply her wants.

The story can also be seen as illustrating another point of Marx's: capitalism is destined to fail because it eventually becomes like a cancer in its insatiable greed to own everything. It eventually get too greedy and kills the goose that lays its golden eggs. The same happens to Hester: Paul, her golden goose, kills himself with overwork because his mother's desire for money can never be satisfied.

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Marxist literary criticism, as the name implies, interprets literature through the prism of Karl Marx’s (and Friedrich Engels) theories of economics and class struggle.  The purest form of applied Marxism has never existed, because it is inherently anti-materialistic, and the majority of all societies covet material goods.  In D.H. Lawrence’s 1926 short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” the family at the center of the story, including Paul, the young boy whose “gift” for picking the winners of horse races, and his mother Hester, suffers from what Marx would consider the sickness of capitalist depravity.  Hester seems to suffer from an inordinate, if not entirely unusual, degree of materialistic excess.  Unfortunately for her, her husband, Paul’s father, is a failure with respect to Hester’s psychotic need for wealth. The family’s situation, and Hester’s affliction, is described by Lawrence in the following passage from “The Rocking-Horse Winner”:

“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. The father went into town to some office. But though he had good prospects, these prospects never materialised. There was always the grinding sense of the shortage of money, though the style was always kept up.”

Marxism views materialism as a weakness and an unnatural state of being that would ultimately disappear in favor of a socialist society where every individual would produce in accordance with the notion of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”  Lawrence’s story is clearly in conflict with that objective or presumed end-state of human civilization.  There is nothing subtle about Lawrence’s Marxian perspective in his story.  This family is craven in its pursuit of material wealth, and its inability to fund its lifestyle is slowly killing it.   Even the story’s symbol of proletarian virtue, the gardener Bassett, is stricken with this sickness, which permeates the house and all those within.  As Lawrence describes the atmosphere:

"And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll's house, a voice would start whispering: 'There must be more money! There must be more money!'"

“The Rocking-Horse Winner” requires no Marxian analysis; it is already an indictment of materialism and the way the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself erodes mankind like a disease.  Hester is the ultimate manifestation of that sickness, but Paul’s death stands as a warning against unbridled materialism and insidious effect Marx suggested it would have on civilization.

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