drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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What are the plot, theme, characters, and setting of "The Rocking Horse Winner"?

Quick answer:

The plot is of a young boy trying to make his family happy, especially his mother, by earning money through gambling in horse races. The themes include the dangers of materialism and greed, as Paul exhausts himself trying to please his mother, who is never satisfied. The characters include Paul (the young boy), as well as his family (his parents and uncle) and the household gardener. The setting is likely 1920s England. 

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That's quite a bit to tackle in one question, so be sure to check out the more developed answers posted at the eNotes link below. In a brief summary, here are those elements:

Plot: The plot centers around Paul, whose mother doesn't really love him or her other children and who really wants a better life than her circumstances can afford. Paul discovers that he can predict the upcoming winners of horse races by riding a rocking horse at his house. He hides this from his mother but quietly places bets and makes quite a bit of money which he uses to surprise his mother. It's not enough for her, and he works even harder to make her happy through more intense riding. Eventually, his efforts kill him.

Theme: There are several that could apply. One is that people who rely on money for personal fulfillment will find ultimate disappointment. Paul's mother desires money above all else, which leads her son to his death.

Characters: The main characters are as follows:

  • Paul: Paul is an emotional young boy who desperately wishes to win the favor of his mother and make her happy.
  • Paul's mother, Hester: Unhappy that she and her husband can't afford the life she desires, Hester notes that her children bring her no joy. Her detachment from her children is the instigating circumstance in Paul's desperate attempts to learn the winners of the races.
  • Uncle Oscar: Uncle Oscar assists Paul in his gambling efforts and doesn't shield him from the potentially harmful effects his actions could have.

Setting: This story takes place in England in the 1920s in a fairly affluent neighborhood.

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The short story 'The Rocking-Horse Winner' by D. H. Lawrence has references to the themes of love, childhood, duty and luck - and they are all mixed up together. For example, the little boy in the story does not seem to get a lot of attention from his pre-occupied mother - she is often too busy worrying where the next dress or party invitation is going to come from. Yet the boy still feels inextricably drawn to her - whether this is real love is an issue raised by the short story. So he tries to help (in his need to be needed and his duty) by using luck - gambling on horses. it becomes an obsession and he too becomes preoccupied - so much so that he rides his toy rocking horse to distraction - almost into the floor - in a kind of mad frenzy. Perhaps the guilt/responsibilty he feels at too tender an age puts paid to his childhood too early.

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What is the theme of the story "The Rocking Horse Winner," written by D.H. Lawrence?

Rather than “greed,” I would say the theme of Lawrence’s story was “luck,” or rather, the lack of it. This is the mother’s problem: despite her seeming affluence, she is “unlucky”—there is a “hard little place” at the center of her heart that keeps her from feeling love for her children—a secret only she and her children know.

The rest of the story can be read as an attempt to explain what “luck” might be. It’s clear as the story progresses that genuine parental love, and the idea of a nurturing home life, have been replaced by a house that constantly whispers “there must be more money.” The rocking horse is not a plaything but a way of “being sure”—a tool of Paul’s “trade” of being lucky. Although the mother tells Paul that being lucky is better than being rich, by the end of the story the eighty thousand pounds Paul makes at the Derby is not enough to get around the hard place in his Mother’s heart. She has, unwittingly, traded her son for a lot of money. As her brother says to her at the end of the story, “’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.’” The implication is that it is only in death that Paul is truly lucky.

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What is the theme of the story "The Rocking Horse Winner," written by D.H. Lawrence?

Greed is a major theme of this story.  Paul is a selfless boy wanting to help his family.  His mother is a greedy and selfish woman, wanting not to make the family comfortable, but to buy pretty things.  Her greed causes her to lie and sneak, hiding what should be shared from her husband and the rest of the family.  Lawrence not only demonstrates the negative effects of her greed - Paul's death and the conflict within the family - but he also demonstrates the effect of greed on itself.  Greed increases unto itself.  For a greedy person, the more they get, the more the want.  The are never satisfied, as is clearly true of the mother in this story.  She could have $1000 a year to make her comfortable, but she demands all the money at once - which of course leads her to spend it all at once.  Ultimately, her greed destroys Paul and, ironically, the chance the family had to become undeniably wealthy.

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What is the theme of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" and how is it developed throughout the story?

Wealth is a dominant theme of D.H.Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner."

In this story, the acquisition of wealth becomes the measure of value for everything in life. The preoccupation with money as a measure of worth in the mother's mind becomes so prevalent in the home that her son Paul complains to his uncle, "I hate our house for whispering." Further, he explains to Uncle Oscar that he has started his betting on horses "for Mother." Paul hopes that by winning a considerable sum of money, he can quiet the house and bring his mother luck. But even when he has money sent to her secretly in the mail, and he asks his mother if she has received "anything nice in the post" when it arrives, Paul receives this reply: "'Quite moderately nice'...her voice cold and absent."

This cold answer disappoints Paul, so he has more money sent by way of the lawyer's office to help pay all her debt. Then, he returns to his rocking horse so that he can discover another winner. When he does not pick a winner for the Grand National, Paul becomes "wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him."

The mother's obsession with acquiring wealth and measuring everything by monetary amounts influences the family's emotional states, ranging from self-worth to love. Therefore, it becomes a destructive force because only spiritual values can bring personal satisfaction and a sense of well-being. As the family grows more and more emotionally impoverished, the voices in the house continue to scream: "There must be more money!...Oh, now, now-w! Now-2-2---there must be more money!--more than ever! More than ever!" Despite his increased efforts, Paul becomes unable to continue to win. Then, spiritually starved and tormented by his feverish drive for more money to satisfy his mother and win her love, Paul finally collapses and dies one night.

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What is the theme of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" and how is it developed throughout the story?

There are several recurring themes that emerge in D. H. Lawrence's short story, "The Rocking-Horse Winner." One is the Oedipus Complex that arises between Paul and his mother. Paul's strong desire to appease his mother leads to him financially usurping his father as the money-provider of the household. His wild riding of the rocking horse conjures vivid sexual imagery. Another theme is that of greed. Paul's mother shows little attention to her son or husband, concentrating only on money and finding ways to spend it. The more money Paul makes from his gambling winnings, the more his mother desires. In the end, her son's illness and death seem to be secondary to her love of money. A third theme is family responsibility. Paul's parents are always short of money; his father works regularly, but his income is not enough for the house--and especially for his wife's desires. Paul, the young son, eventually becomes the primary breadwinner, yet his efforts seem to go unnoticed by the father, and his mother--rather than showing love and appreciation--only wants more money.

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What is the theme of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" and how is it developed throughout the story?

Two of the major themes of the story are pitted against each other in "The Rocking Horse Winner". The first theme is obsession with money. This is shown especially in the character of Hester, Paul's mother, who never thinks she has enough money. Her obsession is pitted against the theme of the responsiblity of parenthood. Hester tends to ignore her children and focus on the material wealth that she thinks she should have. This results in her son Paul trying to make up for his father's lack of material success in order to make his mother happy. Of course, the results are tragic because even though Paul is able to provide his mother with some wealth, it costs him his life and his mother is still not satisfied. 

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner" what is the theme?

Concerning theme in "The Rocking-Horse Winner," the enotes Study Guide on the short story lists and explains the following themes:

Responsibility
The obsession with wealth and material items is pitted against the responsibilities of parenting in "The Rocking-Horse Winner." It is the responsibility of the parents to provide for the children in a family. It is also the responsibility of the parents to spend money wisely and budget carefully, so that the bills are paid and no one goes without food, clothing, or shelter. However, in this story, Lawrence turns this on its ear, making the parents complete failures at financial dealings and their son Paul incredibly gifted at making money, albeit by gambling....

Generosity and Greed
The disparity between Paul's generosity and his mother's greed is another theme of "The Rocking-Horse Winner." Paul generously offers all his winnings to the family, in order to relieve the family's dire need for money. He seems to have no needs of his own and is motivated solely by the desire to help his mother. Paul's unselfish generosity is contrasted starkly with the mother's greed and selfishness....

Oedipus Complex
Paul's desire to earn money for the family can be said to be an unconscious desire to take his father's place, a concept that psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud termed the "Oedipus complex." This is a reference to the story from ancient Greece in which Oedipus, who was raised away from his parents, accidently kills his father and marries his mother. Freud suggested that all boys go through a stage where they want to take their father's place, Paul's desire to take care of the family's needs is Oedipal....

Thus, the ideas of responsibility, which the parents don't have and Paul does, greed (the mother) and generosity (Paul), and Paul's desire and need to take his father's place are revealed in the story. 

Unfortunately, and ironically, the only worthy character in the story, Paul, the one who takes control and saves the family, is the one who dies.   And as he does so, he secures for his mother more money that she could every dream of, although, of course, that probably won't be enough for her, either.

 

 

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner" what is the theme?

There are several possible themes in this short story. The main theme is that of greed and materialism, and how it can never be satisfied, or bring true happiness or peace.  Throughout the entire story, the mother wants more and more money; the more she gets, the more she needs.  Does it ever make her happy?  No.  Paul, her son, equates love with luck and money; he strives the entire story, and essentially sacrifices his life, to get money.  It only wears him down and kills him in the end.  Greed demands everything and gives only misery in return.  That is the most powerful theme in the story.

Other possible themes are love, family, wealth, and happiness.  All of these things can be discussed at length and supported through examples in the text.  I hope that helps; good luck!

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What are the symbols and theme of "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

The action by which Paul picks winners in horse racing and accumulates a huge amount of cash is a symbol of the general principle of sacrifice. It also symbolizes the bond a child, or (in Lawrence's specific mindset) a boy maintains with his mother. We learn little about Paul's father in the story, and he is notable by this absence only. It is easy to see this theme repeated in the Lawrence canon, of the alienation of a boy with regard to his father or other male authority symbols, and the need for an attachment elsewhere. With Paul his uncle is a kind of benign replacement, but one can also argue that the connection Paul feels and achieves through a kind of ESP with the horses who win for him, is an additional or even more important symbol of this need for outside fulfillment. What, then, is the meaning of Paul's dying of a fever at the moment of triumph, as it were? Without being too obvious, we can see Paul as a Christ figure. This symbolism has, admittedly, been overly stressed and laid on with too heavy a hand by commentators on literary works in general, but in this case I believe it is valid. The act of "divining" the winners has in some sense exhausted Paul, and he expires, but at least it is done as a consequence of redeeming his mother.

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What are the symbols and theme of "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

Please see the links below for more answers.

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What are the main themes involved with A Rocking Horse Winner?

A main theme of this story is that no amount of money can fill the void that is left when a person can't love. Paul's mother is incapable of loving her children or her husband. This lack is felt in the house as a lack of money—even the walls of the home seem to be crying out for more. What the house really needs is more love.

Wanting to earn his mother's love, Paul strives to get as much money as he possibly can for her. He does this by riding his rocking horse ferociously until he can predict the winner in an upcoming horse race. By having his uncle bet on the horse, Paul can put money into his mother's hands. Nevertheless, it is never enough. This leads to a second theme of the story: money can't buy love. Paul is too young to realize this, but it is nevertheless true that no matter how long or how furiously he rides his rocking horse, he will never earn his mother's love.

This, in turn, leads to a third theme: children are the innocent sacrifices in a household lacking in love. It is Paul who gets sick and dies in the story, not his mother.

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What are the main themes involved with A Rocking Horse Winner?

There are several themes in this story.  Some of them are discussed in the link I am posting below.

Probably the most obvious theme deals with greed and generosity.  Paul's Mother has insatiable greed, and no matter how much Paul gives her, she is never happy.  She squanders the money Paul provides and wants MORE MORE MORE. In the end, Paul dies trying to win more money for his mother.

This desire to please his mother and win her love points to a second theme.  One might argue for a Freudian interpretation with Paul displaying an Oedipal complex. Paul is definitely in competition with his father as bread winner for the family, and he certainly wants to gain his mother's love and approval.  Unfortunately, he never does.

Other themes include responsibility or lack thereof and the vain pursuit of love.

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What are some possible themes in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence?

Themes of pride, dissatisfaction, and greed are all clearly developed in Hester, Paul's mother. She is also a terribly selfish woman, totally incapable of loving anyone, including her son. Her heart is cold. Even when Paul dies, his mother does not feel grief or loss. We have reason to believe she will continue spending, and wasting, whatever money she gets. There will never be enough money for her.

A second theme involves sacrifice. Paul loves his mother and knows how miserable she is because they are poor. He determines to get money for the household, to be "lucky" as his father had not been. When Paul discovers he can pick the winners in horse races, he becomes obsessed with winning more and more money for his mother, but it is never enough. He works harder and harder, growing frail and weak, until he dies. He sacrifices himself for his mother's happiness, a gift she surely does not deserve and one he surely had no responsibility to give her.

Another theme develops from Paul's need for love and recognition. He is a child who is neglected and emotionally abused. His mother never listens to him; he plays no role of importance in her life. He dies trying to please her. Perhaps then she would love him.

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