drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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What social values does the author criticize in this story ?

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Lawrence is critical of materialism, classism/social standing, over-focus on upward mobility, a distant parenting style, shallow obsession with appearances, greed, immaturity, irresponsibility, and ingratitude.  In the story, these occur at personal traits in the parents and uncle due to social values.

In the story, we encounter a whispering house, a financially-strained family, an apparently supernatural solution to their financial stress, the transmogrification of a rocking-horse into some sort of time machine, the theme of greed versus generosity, dysfunctional family dynamics, the way a family avoids the issues of a troubled child, and the self-sacrifice people of all ages are capable of making for their loved ones.  Paul’s father is also absent from the story though not from the family so we can take that as criticism of parents distracted by shallow priorities.

The opening begins like a fairy tale:  “There was a woman who was beautiful…”

Paul seems autistic or epileptic much like saints (Lawrence may have written the story about a patron’s family who had an autistic child.)

Paul martyrs himself in efforts he feels will save his family, quiet the house, and secure luck and love.  Instead of using the extra income to pay off debts, his mother squanders it and increases the house's demanding voice and the pressure on Paul.

Another reason for the inclusion of childhood themes could be to remind adult readers of their responsibilities as parents.  For example, in Lawrence’s story, the mother is so engrossed in her own wants that she cannot see her son’s legitimate needs.  She doesn’t take the impact of her words into consideration or the possibility that a child can only interpret them from his vantage point.

Caring parents, for example, would reassure the child that both parents were indeed fortunate to have three wonderful children and probably would have tried to address and relieve his worries about money.  Bringing up the car issue and “filthy lucre” are cues that she just misses or ignores as signs of his distress and uses instead to whine about being the poor members of the family.  In fact, the whole discussion of luck is a way to let herself and her husband off the hook for living beyond their means.



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