At a Glance
"The Rocking-Horse Winner" key characters:
In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," Paul is a young boy who fulfills his mother's desire for more luck and money by betting on horses. He plays the role of an adult, but his sacrifices for his family are not appreciated.
Hester is greedy and irresponsible, unable to love others because she is obsessed with acquiring material wealth.
Bassett is the family gardener who helps Paul carry out his money-making endeavor by placing his bets on horses.
Oscar Cresswell is Paul's uncle, who uses Paul's gift to further his own wealth and does little to help Hester and her family.
Paul is a young boy who is deeply troubled by his mother’s insatiable desire for more money. Though his mother, Hester, gives the appearance of being caring and devoted, Paul and his two sisters are aware that she does not really love them. The house they live in is stylish, but its atmosphere is permeated by an ever-present anxiety about money that particularly torments Paul. The children constantly seem to hear the house whispering, “There must be more money!” One day Paul asks his mother why the family doesn’t have a car; she replies that they are poor, and they are poor because they are unlucky. Without knowing why, Paul asserts that he is lucky and that he knows because God told him. His mother laughs this off and, angry and determined to prove himself to her, Paul sets out to locate the source of luck. He rides his rocking horse wildly, whipping it and commanding it to take him to wherever luck is. Eventually, Paul discovers that when he rides the nameless rocking horse hard enough, he somehow comes to know the name of the real horse that will win the next race. On his rocking-horse rides, Paul’s large, blue, close-set eyes are filled with an eerie fire. He becomes betting partners with Bassett, the gardener, and later with his Uncle Oscar, betting on horses only when he is certain they will win and anxiously hoping both men keep his betting secret. Eventually Paul is able to anonymously send his mother five thousand pounds, which she spends wastefully. Paul is terrified by the fact that the house now cries out for “more money” more than ever. Outside of studying Greek and Latin with his new tutor, Paul spends all his time with Bassett and begins betting even when he is uncertain of the winner, causing him to lose money and become ever more distraught. He begs his mother not to send him to the seaside to recover from his anxiety until after the Derby, on which he has placed all his hopes, and she agrees. When his mother comments that he is too old for a rocking horse, Paul—who has not divulged the secret of how he discovers the winners’ names to anyone—insists on keeping it. At the end of the story, Paul’s mother discovers him “surging madly” on the rocking horse. He yells out the name of the horse that will win the Derby, Malabar, and falls to the ground. Paul enters a feverish period of delirium in which he babbles about Malabar and tries to get back on his rocking horse, his eyes like “blue stones.” Finally Bassett comes to tell him Malabar has won. Paul excitedly explains his secret and exclaims to his mother that he is lucky after all, but she doesn’t remember him telling her about his luck the first time. He dies later that night.
Hester, Paul’s mother, is a deeply dissatisfied woman driven by an insatiable desire for money and success. She married for love rather than financial security, but now that the love between her and her husband has faded, she is left with a life much less luxurious than she would like. Though she gives the appearance of being a perfect mother, Hester and her three children are aware that she cannot really love them or anyone; the center of her heart is a “hard little place.” Though she believes in herself, Hester is unable to achieve the kind of success she wants, even when she discovers she has a talent for sketching draperies and goes to...
(The entire section is 2,524 words.)