drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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Literary devices and figurative language used in "The Rocking-Horse Winner."


"The Rocking-Horse Winner" employs various literary devices and figurative language, including symbolism, irony, and personification. The rocking horse symbolizes Paul's intense desire for luck and financial stability. Irony is evident as Paul's efforts to secure wealth ultimately lead to his demise. Additionally, the house's whispering personifies the family's insatiable greed, enhancing the story's eerie and desperate tone.

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What literary devices are used in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

There are several literary devices used in "The Rocking-Horse Winner," including exposition, indirect characterization, and irony.

The story begins with expositionthe revelation of background information that is meant to help the reader understand the story's characters, conflict, and setting—when the narrator explains the mother's history, choices, and relationship with her children.

Lawrence employs indirect characterizationwhen the author reveals the personalities and qualities of the characters through their beliefs and behaviors rather than directly telling the readers what qualities those characters possess. The mother is revealed to be cold, in that she "could not feel love," and materialistic—as is the father—as they always have "the pressing feeling of not having enough money," though they squander what they do have and live outside their means.

Lawrence also employs irony, when reality differs dramatically from expectation. It is ironic, certainly, that little Paul's obsessive riding of his rocking horse somehow reveals to him the name of future horse race winners. Further, Paul insists on his deathbed that he is "lucky"—over and over—and this constitutes another irony because he is far from lucky: with a mother who doesn't love him and a life that has not truly mattered to anyone other than in terms of the financial benefit he has provided to them.

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What examples of figurative language are used in "The Rocking Horse Winner"?

A good example of a simile can be found when Paul is talking to his uncle:

And then the house whispers, like people laughing at you behind your back. It’s awful, that is!

Paul uses this simile to illustrate how society laughs at people like his mother behind their backs while praising them to their faces. As well as a simile, this is also an example of personification, because human characteristics have been ascribed to an inanimate object.

The whispers of the house refer to the dissatisfaction felt by Paul's mother, Hester, over the lack of money coming into the house. That's why Paul's so keen to keep up his winning streak on the horses; he wants to satisfy his mother's need for more money. Despite his best efforts, however, he's unable to do so. As Paul soon discovers, no amount of money is ever enough for his avaricious mother.

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What examples of figurative language are used in "The Rocking Horse Winner"?

D. H. Lawrence, who is a poet as well as a storyteller, employs figurative language in "The Rocking-Horse Winner," a haunting story which unexpectedly reads like a fairy-tale.

Lawrence makes use of metaphors and similes. When Paul rocks in his frenzy on his rocking horse, he is described as having "ridden to the end of his mad little journey." (His act of rocking is compared to a journey metaphorically in an unstated comparison.) Later in the narrative, Paul's eyes are described in this metaphor: "...his eyes were blue fire."

In the description of Bassett, Lawrence uses a simile (a stated comparison using "like" or "as") in describing the young gardener who provides Paul with his knowledge about the race horses: "Bassett was serious as a church."
Another simile describes the "violent hushed motion" of Paul's riding his rocking horse. As the mother listens outside his room, "[S]he felt that she knew the noise....And on and on it went like a madness."

In another description of Paul, Lawrence writes that the boy gazes at his uncle from "big, hot, blue eyes," a phrase that contains figurative language since eyes do not really become "hot."

Personification of the house is prevalent throughout the story as the house is frequently described as having "voices"; these voices at times "simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy."

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What examples of figurative language are used in "The Rocking Horse Winner"?

Personification is vital in D.H. Lawrence's, "The Rocking-Horse Winner."

The refrain that furthers the plot, emphasizes the conflict, and adds unity to the work involves personification.  The refrain,--"There must be more money!  There must be more money!"--comes

"...whispering from the springs of the still-swaying rocking horse, and even the horse, bending his wooden, champing head, heard it.  The big doll, sitting so pink and smirking in her new pram, could hear it quite plainly, and seemed to be smirking all the more self-consciously because of it.  The foolish puppy, too, that took the place of the teddy bear, he was looking so extraordinarily foolish for no other reason but that he heard the secret whisper all over the house:  "There must be more money."

The horse, the doll, and the puppy are all personified, here, as is the refrain itself, which comes "whispering."

In case you need more than one form of figurative language, you can find metaphor in the opening paragraph:

"She married for love, and the love turned to dust." 

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