drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," what causes anxiety in Paul's house?

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The idea that fills the inhabitants of the house is that there is never enough money.

For the mother money is an end in itself; by contrast, Paul hopes that enough money will finally satisfy his mother and she will love him. But like many who desire material possessions, the mother never seems satisfied, nor does she repay Paul with the love he desires.

In the exposition of the story, the lines read like those of a fairy tale:

There were a boy and two little girls. They lived in a pleasant house, with a garden, and they had discreet servants, and felt themselves superior to anyone in the neighborhood.

What's more, the power to predict which horse will win a race and bring them money seems magical. Nevertheless, life is empty and false because the mother becomes engaged in a futile quest for the satisfaction of being rich, and she neglects her children. Indeed, at the center of her heart "was a hard little place that could not feel love." When Paul becomes ill, his mother feels that her heart has gone, "turned actually into a stone," and after Paul's death, her brother upbraids her, declaring that the poor unloved boy is "best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking horse to find a winner" for his ruthless family.

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In this short story, the mother, Hester's, perception that there's not enough money fills the house with anxiety. Paul, her sensitive young son, constantly feels the pressure of his cold-hearted mother's discontent. To him, the very walls of the house seem to be saying more, more, we need more money. That his mother's discontent is irrational becomes apparent when Paul, with the help of his Uncle Oscar and a servant, wins 5,000 pounds betting on horses. The money, a large amount in that time period, simply isn't enough for the insatiable Hester. Instead of finding contentment, she immediately spends the winnings and wants more. Paul, too young to recognize that no amount will ever satisfy his mother, works harder and harder to please her, riding his rocking horse with greater and greater fury so he can discern which horse will win the next race. In the end, Paul's response to the anxiety in the household costs him his life. 

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