The Rocking-Horse Winner Questions and Answers
by D. H. Lawrence

The Rocking-Horse Winner book cover
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What are the plot, theme, characters, and setting of "The Rocking Horse Winner"?

The plot is of a young boy trying to make his family happy, especially his mother, by earning money through gambling in horse races. The themes include the dangers of materialism and greed, as Paul exhausts himself trying to please his mother, who is never satisfied. The characters include Paul (the young boy), as well as his family (his parents and uncle) and the household gardener. The setting is likely 1920s England. 

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That's quite a bit to tackle in one question, so be sure to check out the more developed answers posted at the eNotes link below. In a brief summary, here are those elements:

Plot: The plot centers around Paul, whose mother doesn't really love him or her other children and who really wants a better life than her circumstances can afford. Paul discovers that he can predict the upcoming winners of horse races by riding a rocking horse at his house. He hides this from his mother but quietly places bets and makes quite a bit of money which he uses to surprise his mother. It's not enough for her, and he works even harder to make her happy through more intense riding. Eventually, his efforts kill him.

Theme: There are several that could apply. One is that people who rely on money for personal fulfillment will find ultimate disappointment. Paul's mother desires money above all else, which leads her son to his death.

Characters: The main characters are as follows:

  • Paul: Paul is an emotional young boy who desperately wishes to win the favor of his mother and make her happy.
  • Paul's mother, Hester: Unhappy that she and her husband can't afford the life she desires, Hester notes that her children bring her no joy. Her detachment from her children is the instigating circumstance in Paul's desperate attempts to learn the winners of the races.
  • Uncle Oscar: Uncle Oscar assists Paul in his gambling efforts and doesn't shield him from the potentially harmful effects his actions could have.

Setting: This story takes place in England in the 1920s in a fairly affluent neighborhood.

Further Reading:

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The short story 'The Rocking-Horse Winner' by D. H. Lawrence has references to the themes of love, childhood, duty and luck - and they are all mixed up together. For example, the little boy in the story does not seem to get a lot of attention from his pre-occupied mother - she is often too busy worrying where the next dress or party invitation is going to come from. Yet the boy still feels inextricably drawn to her - whether this is real love is an issue raised by the short story. So he tries to help (in his need to be needed and his duty) by using luck - gambling on horses. it becomes an obsession and he too becomes preoccupied - so much so that he rides his toy rocking horse to distraction - almost into the floor - in a kind of mad frenzy. Perhaps the guilt/responsibilty he feels at too tender an age puts paid to his childhood too early.

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viberry | Student

The Rocking-Horse Winner is a story about the paradoxical conflict between love and materialism in a middle class English family. The story centers around the relationship of a boy Paul with his mother Hester. Hester is an artist who does not make as much money as the family's lifestyle requires. She is also dissatisfied by her relationship with her husband who does not make enough money, and anxiety is felt by Paul as he sees this situation and wants to help.

Paul begins betting on horses with their gardener Bassett, and learns he has a gift of being able to predict the winner by riding his rocking horse until he knows the name of the winning horse. Paul's uncle Oscar Cresswell then joins them in the betting and they win 5,000 pounds as a gift for Hester. Paul gets disappointed when the gift only lets his mother spend more, and becomes determined to finally get "lucky". Paul rides until he becomes ill, but does manage to guess the name of the derby winner and wins 80,000 pounds for his mother. He dies shortly after, highlighting the book's main theme of love and materialism failing to co-exist.

mkcapen1 | Student

The short story "The Rocking Horse Winner" is about a young boy who grows up in a home where the mother had children but does not really love them.  She views her husband as a failure because he does earn much, and they ever have enough money.  Her son hears her talking about his father never having any luck and that the problem is that she had married an unlucky man.

The boy has a toy rocking horse that he gets on and rides with a vengeance.  He imagines himself on a race horse wining the race.  Each time he goes into a trance like state as he rides the horse.  The boy discovers through a family employee that he can make certain real race horses win by his actions.  His uncle learns about this and bets along with the boy.

The boy is able to bet and earn money to give to his family.  His parents do not know how to live within their means or save any money.  The more the boy brings in, the greater and more expensive their lifestyle becomes.  It becomes such a big problem that the walls of the house state, "There is not enough money.  We need more money."

The boy is eager to supply the parents with money and desires their love.  He wants to show his mother that he is lucky.  He gets on the horse and rides.  He rides harder and harder in order to win.  He wins the race and they will receive a large sum of money.  Their son dies from exhaustion.

The setting is a pleasant house with a Gardner and a few discreet servants.

Themes: The need for acceptance.  Greed. Spending beyond one's means.

Characters: Boy named Paul, mother, father, Uncle Oscar, Bassett, young gardener, and nurse.