What is the central and most important irony in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

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It is ironic indeed that Hester appears to have everything she could ever want in life yet still remains deeply unsatisfied with her lot. No matter how much money Paul wins for her, it's never enough. As the old saying goes you never know what you have until you lose...

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It is ironic indeed that Hester appears to have everything she could ever want in life yet still remains deeply unsatisfied with her lot. No matter how much money Paul wins for her, it's never enough. As the old saying goes you never know what you have until you lose it. And thanks to Hester's insatiable greed and desire for social status she loses what should be the most precious thing in the world to her: her son.

For it's only because of Hester's deep and unaccountable dissatisfaction with life that Paul ends up dying so tragically young. In a classic goose/golden egg scenario, Hester has inadvertently ensured that the steady supply of money that was coming into the house will now dry up completely, leaving her even more dissatisfied than before. With her son now dead, she will find out—probably for the first time in her pampered life—what it's really like not to have enough money.

Hester always intended that Paul's rocking horse rides would bring her wealth and enhanced social status. And for a time, they did. But now, thanks to her insufferable greed and selfishness, they're going to have the exact opposite effect. And if that isn't ironic, then nothing is.

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The central irony found in D.H. Lawrence's classic short story "The Rocking-Horse Winner" concerns the fact that Paul's success has the complete opposite effect on his mother, and he is dedicated to obtaining the unattainable. Paul's mother is depicted as a cold, insensitive woman who does not love her children and is only concerned with her social status. She is extremely materialistic and is always in need of money. Paul desperately desires to earn his mother's love and affection and believes that the money he has won from betting will make his mother happy. Ironically, Paul's success and winnings have the opposite effect on his mother, who only wants more money even after she receives five thousand dollars. Tragically, Paul feverishly rides himself to death attempting to win more money to earn his mother's love and affection. Ironically, Paul dies attempting to gain the unattainable. Uncle Oscar's comment at the end of the story emphasizes the irony regarding Paul's death and his sister's situation when he tells her,

"My God, Hester, you’re eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad. But, poor devil, poor devil, he’s best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking horse to find a winner." (Lawrence, 5)

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To my mind, at least, the central irony that creates the conflict that runs through the whole story is introduced to us in the first paragraph when we meet Paul's mother. Note how the text presents her:

She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them... Everybody else said of her: "She is such a good mother. She adores her children." Only she herself, and her children themselves, knew it was not so. They read it in each other's eyes.

The irony of this passage is that the mother appears to love her children, and gives every visible proof of her affections through her actions, but this cannot prevent the reality of her heart "turning hard" whenever she is with them. It is this lack of love that drives Paul to go to such supernatural lengths to gain money to make his mother happy, and therefore gain her genuine affection. Note how this irony is referred to again at the end of the story by Uncle Oscar, her brother:

"My God, Hester, you're eight-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad. But, poor devil, poor devil, he's best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking horse to find a winner."

Note the criticism that is implicit in this remark. Paul is "best gone" from a life where he is forced to go to such lengths to make his mother notice him. Although Hester has what she wanted, she has only gained it through losing her son.

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