drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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What does the rocking-horse symbolize in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

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The main symbolism in D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner" manifests through the rocking horse itself, which represents the luck and pain of accumulating wealth.

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The rocking horse can be said to symbolize childhood, for one thing. Nobody but a small child could ride a rocking horse without breaking it. It can also be said to symbolize an interest in horses and horse-racing. It certainly symbolizes or represents Paul's anxiety. Rocking back and forth is a common symptom of anxiety in children. The rocking can symbolize Paul's need for his mother's love. It can symbolize his feeling of helplessness. After all, he is only a little boy. How can he do anything practical to please his mother? He knows she wants money. How can a little boy earn any significant amount of money? He is not riding the rocking horse to learn the name of a winning horse but really to try to find out why his mother doesn't love him and what he might do to win her affection. That is the destination he is trying to get to. The rocking horse can be said to symbolize a futile attempt to solve an unsolvable problem. The rocking never gets the horse anywhere; it remains in the same place, like the boy riding it. The rocking horse might really be magical!!! Maybe Paul really did pick winners by riding it. A rocking horse is no more improbable as a magical object than a magic lamp or a monkey's paw. As mature people, we know that you can't win money consistently by riding a rocking horse; but as readers, we really believe that the rocking horse is a magical object and that Paul is going to keep winning money as long as he keeps rocking. We believe--because we want to believe.

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 The rocking-horse symbolizes several closely linked themes in this story. First, it symbolizes how far the economic fears of the family reach. A children's play area should be free of such fears, but they reach even into the place where the horse is. Second, it shows how ambition does not ever stop. Like the rocking-horse, every forward rock/step/motion is matched by a backward one. Think of how the house is haunted: " There must be more money! There must be more money!" Third, it shows the undercurrent of sexual tension in the desire.

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What's the significance of the title of "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

The title is ironic. Paul can determine which horse will win an upcoming race by riding his rocking horse, so in that sense he is a winner. He wins an enormous amount of money for his mother by furiously riding the wooden horse until it becomes clear to him which real horse to lay a bet on.

However, he is not really a winner at all, because the obsessive riding kills him. Further, although he is too young to understand this, no amount of money could ever win him what he really desires, which is his mother's love. She is empty inside, incapable of loving. He believes, in his young way, that enough money will fill her up, but, in fact, the more she gets, the more she wants. So while Paul wins bets, in the end, nobody in this story really is a winner.

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What's the significance of the title of "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

Without the rocking horse, young Paul would not be blessed with the good luck that, according to his mother, has always avoided his father. Although Paul has outgrown his childhood toy, he somehow determines that riding the horse will provide him with the winners of the local horse races. He does not predict the winners randomly or by himself; they come only while he secretly simulates the actual races on the rocking horse, and he apparently always picks (or the wooden horse whispers to him) the winner of the race. Critics claim that the horse also serves as a symbolic sexual device, as Paul works himself up to a furvor while wildly riding the wooden horse.

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What is the symbolism in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

The main symbol of D. H. Lawrence 's short story "The Rocking-Horse Winner" is the rocking horse itself. Sometimes a symbol can represent more than one idea. That seems to be the case with the rocking horse.

In one sense, the rocking horse represents the way in which wealth is a product of chance. Paul asks his mom why they don't have a lot of money. His mom answers, "Luck." As luck would have it, Paul starts to ride his rocking horse and finds that in doing so, he can correctly guess the outcomes of horse races. His intangible ability to pick a winner is not a skill that can be acquired with study or hard work. Paul earns his family money through the luck of him possessing this somewhat psychic trait.

Besides luck, the rocking horse can also symbolize greed or the adverse effects of excessively pursuing wealth. It might represent how earning some money can lead to the visceral desire to earn more money. This cycle places continual strain and pressure on people. Paul, for one, does not appear to gain peace and serenity from his initial victories. Rather, the money he earns brings him further worry and anxiety. Yet Paul can't seem to turn his back on the prospect of additional earnings. That is to say, Paul can't seem to stop riding his rocking horse.

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," for what things might riding the rocking horse be a metaphor?

One could argue that riding the rocking horse is a metaphor for the futility of attempting to solve unsolvable problems. Paul's primary motivation for riding the rocking horse is to become lucky enough to earn his mother's love and affection by winning her a substantial amount of money. Tragically, Paul's mother's heart is extremely cold, and she cannot love her children no matter how hard she tries. Paul believes that his mother does not love him because she is unlucky and does not have enough money. Once Paul discovers that riding the rocking horse will allow him to predict the winning racehorses, he begins to bet on horse races and wins a substantial amount of money. Unfortunately, Paul's efforts are in vain, and he is unable to win his mother's love and affection even after giving her five thousand dollars. Similar to riding a rocking horse, Paul makes no progress in his relationship with his mother and simply expends his energy by remaining in the same place. Essentially, the efforts of riding a rocking horse are all in vain, just like Paul's attempts to solve the unsolvable problem of earning his mother's love and affection.

One could also argue that riding the rocking horse is a metaphor for the futility of attempting to buy happiness. It is a common expression that money cannot buy happiness. This is illustrated by Paul's failure to please his greedy mother, who remains focused on attaining more and more money. Paul eventually dies while trying to win enough money to buy his family happiness.

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," for what things might riding the rocking horse be a metaphor?

If you think about a rocking-horse that a child rides on, think about what result is accomplished.  A rocking horse is only a mimic of the real thing; no real riding is done.  No matter how hard you ride on it, it will never get you anywhere; it is just wasted effort, expended on a fruitless endeavor that yields no results.  In Paul's case, unfortunately, it yielded negative results--his fixation, his attempts to use the horse to fix his family's life, and gain his mother's affection, killed him.

Think about all of this in comparison to one of the main themes of the story, which is greed's futility.  Lawrence uses the rocking horse as a metaphor to point out how striving for material possessions, and being completely fixated on greed, is a fruitless endeavor that only harms those who chase it.  Trying to create happiness out of money doesn't work, just like riding a rocking-horse doesn't produce the real experience.  It's a harmful waste of time, a delusional undertaking, bound to fail.  The rocking-horse is a metaphor for people's assumption that wealth will solve problems and fix lives.  It won't, just as riding a rocking horse won't help you go get anywyere--it just gives you the feeling of motion without being real.  Attaining wealth might give you the feeling of trying to achieve happiness, but it won't work.

I hope all of that made sense and helped a bit; good luck!

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," what might riding the horse symbolize?

In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," Paul feels acutely his mother's need for money. The very walls of the house seem to be saying the family needs more money. In fact, they don't need money, but the mother wants more and more money to try to fill an empty place inside.

Riding the rocking horse could symbolize many things, and you might look at the eNotes link below to read about them, but I would focus on the rocking on the horse as the symbol of ambition. Paul has internalized his mother's ambition to get ahead by having more money. The rocking horse, however, is a child's toy, symbolizing the immaturity of the mother's ambition. Second, the fact that a rocking horse can never really get anywhere symbolizes the futility of trying to get ahead. No matter how long Paul rocks and how much money Paul wins for his mother, she will never feel ahead any more than the rocking horse does. The money will never be enough. Paul rocks himself to death on that horse and yet we have no sense that his mother is satisfied.

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Is the rocking horse a symbol in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

The rocking-horse seems to be a symbol of the futility of Paul's quest to win his mother's love. She is incapable of loving her children, according to the narrator. In fact, this woman is incapable of loving anybody. 

She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them....Only she herself knew that at the centre of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody. 

Paul believes that if he can become lucky and win lots of money his mother will love him. But she is incapable of loving anybody. No matter how hard he rides his rocking-horse and how furiously he lashes it, in the end the rocking-horse is still standing in exactly the same place. The unfortunate boy can never get what he really wants, regardless of how much money he wins. The rocking-horse symbolizes Paul's natural desire for his mother's love, his strong motivation to gain it, his anxiety and desperation, and the utter hopelessness of his childish dream. The rocking-horse also symbolizes Paul's helplessness. He is just a little boy. What other possible means would he have of making a large amount of money to please his mother? None. 

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Is the rocking horse a symbol in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

I would definitely want to argue that it is. Throughout this excellent short story it is the rocking horse that gives Paul his supernatural ability to predict the next big winner, and, arguably, it is the rocking horse that takes his life as he rocks ever more frantically on the horse to gain this knowledge. Note how the mother views her son on his horse for the last time:

Then suddenly she switched on the light, and saw her son, in his green pajamas, madly surging on the rocking horse. The blaze of light suddenly lit him up, as he urged the wooden horse...

He screams out "in a powerful, strange voice" and his eyes "blaze" with the effect of the horse. It is clear that the horse does symbolise some sort of power external to Paul and his mother, yet we are never given a precise indication as to what. We can, however, come up with a list of various possibilities. We could say that the horse represents Paul's desire for his mother's love, an instrument of supernatural forces, temptation or greed. Any of these possibilities could be argued from the text.

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What is the symbolism in D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

Symbolism is simply when an author uses a "word, place, character, or object" to mean something above and beyond the literal meaning (Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Terms and Definitions: S"). One example could be seen in the phrase "new dawn." Dawn literally refers to the start of a new day, but used symbolically, a new dawn can also refer to a fresh new start at life (Literary Devices, "Symbol"). Flowers are also frequently used with respect to symbolic meaning. Historically, a red rose was the symbol of Venus, goddess of love, so even today a red rose is understood to symbolize passion, love, and romance.

To find symbolism, you first want to get a thorough understanding of the piece you are analyzing and its themes. D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner" is a tragic tale about a materialistic mother who can only obsessively think about her need for money and feels no natural love for her children. As a result, her son Paul devises a means to find luck to bring her money in the hopes that it will earn her love. However, sadly, the end result is to make her only more desperate for more money, desperate to the point that her son overworks himself and dies. Hence, some themes found in the story are materialism, luck, lack of love, overwork, labor, and obsession. Therefore, in order to pick out symbolism, you'll be looking for words, characters, and objects that help represent these themes.

Two of the most obvious examples are the word money and the house itself. The word money is found all throughout the story, but is it only representing money? Or is it representing the materialism, obsessiveness, and lack of ideals and values that can be attributed to money? Since it's pretty obvious through the story that the mother values nothing more than money, money is representing more than money itself; it is rather representing the themes of the story. The same can be said of their house. Their house is described as being pleasant "with a garden" and as containing "discreet servants." Hence, despite the obsession for more money, the family is actually quite comfortable. Yet the house becomes haunted with the mantra, "There must be more money! There must be more money!" Therefore, does the word house simply refer to a house? Or does it symbolize the fact that house truly isn't a home as it should be and rather echoes the mother's obsessive materialism. Hence, it can be said that even the house itself is symbolizing the story's themes, such as lack of love, materialism, and obsession.

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