What kind of a child is Paul from "The Rocking-Horse Winner" and what are his motivations?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Paul is the protagonist of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence, and he is a precocious and kind-hearted young man. He clearly seems to understand that his mother is incapable of love because she has a heart of stone and because she feels unlucky. Instead of turning away from her, Paul tries to find a way to help her.

Paul is unselfish. Everyone hears the house talking, and what it says is: 

"There must be more money! There must be more money! "

To make things better for his mother, not himself, Paul tries to make money. He discovers he is able to learn the name of winning horses if he rides his old rocking horse in the nursery. When he accumulates some money, he anonymously arranges for his mother to receive a thousand pounds a year for five years; she greedily wants all of it at once and expresses no gratitude, yet Paul grants her wish and stifles his own disappointment that he was not able to please her, as he so wanted to do.

Paul is desperate to help his mother, even though it costs him his life. He talks with her about what makes her so unhappy; even though he does not even understand the words she says, he understands the need. What he does not understand is that his mother is insatiable and her needs will never be fulfilled; nevertheless, he tries to give her what she says she wants--money. Though he wins money, each ride on the rocking horse seems to take something out of him. By the end, he rides frenetically just to get the winner's name; he gets it, though it costs him his life.

Paul acts like and is treated like an adult, though he is still a child. He must have been allowed a childhood once, since he had a nursery and a rocking horse, but now he is just a diminutive adult. He is allowed to bet both by a stable hand (which is not too surprising) and by his uncle, who certainly could have put a stop to things. All the adults in Paul's world take advantage of him for their own benefit, and Paul continues to try to please them all, especially his mother.

Despite his knowing that she does not, cannot love him, Paul loves his mother. His last words are spoken to her after he gives her the name of the next horse to win at the races:

"Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!"

She says she does not remember, but of course he did tell her once. Even at the end, then, Paul loves his mother much more than she ever loved him.

Paul is obviously a sensitive and intelligent young man, but these gifts are wasted on adults who take advantage of him, especially his mother. We would feel better about his sacrifice if we knew it was appreciated and was actually going to improve his mother's life. It will not. She will use up the money bought with her son's life, and it will still not be enough. Paul is a better son than his mother deserves.

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