drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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How does "The Rocking-Horse Winner" critique modern times' obsession with materialism?

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I think this question is spot on. "The Rocking Horse Winner" is absolutely an indictment against materialism. Paul's mother is an unhappy woman. She's not happy because she can't fill her world with all of the nice things that she wants. Materialism has a few components; however, a key component to materialism is that it supports the idea that having things, getting more things, and obtaining better material possessions is the chief goal in life. Happiness is tied to possessions. Materialism basically says, "He who dies with the most toys . . . wins." Paul's mother has this attitude, and Paul knows it. Paul figures out that he can obtain a great deal of money for his family, and that allows his mother to buy all of the things that she wants. Consequently, she begins acting happier, and Paul is motivated to keep doing his work in order to keep his mother happy. The story then shows a problem with materialism. The mom's materialistic tendencies are never completely satisfied. She does express concern about Paul's health from time to time, but her concern is never enough to force Paul to stop riding the rocking horse. Eventually Paul rides himself to death trying to quench his mother's thirst that will never be satisfied. The story shows that a focus on materialism and relationships with things will ultimately destroy valuable relationships with people.

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The mother in this story lives a very comfortable life in a fine house, but is never satisfied. No matter how much she gets, it is never enough. Through her, and the fate of her son, Lawrence critiques a world in which material possessions are more important than love and human relationships. We are told early on that the mother is unable to love her children. To win her love and approval, Paul begins to ride his rocking horse feverishly so he can learn, supernaturally, what horse will win the next race. No matter how much he wins, though, it is not enough. He kills himself trying to get more. Lawrence thus suggests that we can all potentially kill ourselves with overwork when we put materialism at the center of our lives, and illustrates that possessions alone will never fully satisfy us. 

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How does “The Rocking-Horse Winner” portray the quest for material wealth?

To add to what has already been said, the obsessive rocking on a horse that is, in reality, going nowhere presents an interesting parallel to humankind's search for wealth. The rocking horse is stationary. It sits in one place and does not move in spite of the fact that he keeps on rocking. This is a lot like life in that we often pursue wealth incessantly with no clear direction for where we are going. It is the vicious cycle of questing after possessions that, essentially, are meaningless to us after we are dead. The family gets the money, and the father clearly values the money more than the son, but in the end when we die we can't take material wealth with us to the grave (well, we can, but what is the point?). Therefore, the story asks a critical question - how important is wealth? Is money truly as valuable as we make it out to be? And, in the end, which is more important: money or a life well-lived in pursuit of something more tangible than spinning one's wheels in place for all eternity?

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