drawing of a young boy riding a rocking-horse

The Rocking-Horse Winner

by D. H. Lawrence

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Who or what caused Paul's death in "The Rocking Horse Winner"?

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This is a great open-ended question; therefore, the answer is up for debate and will differ from reader to reader. Which answer is defended most depends a bit on the type of reader.

A literal, scientific, and concrete answer type of reader will say that the boy died from exhaustion. David's body simply couldn't handle the pushing that he and his family were putting him through. His exhaustion left him susceptible to getting sick, and once he was sick, he never let his body rest enough to recover. He died as a consequence of this.

A reader that looks for symbolism and that "deeper meaning" might say that David is killed because of greed and materialism. His mom is greedy and materialistic, and David knows this. He wants to please his mom and earn her love. His rocking horse gives him the ability to help his mother have the stuff that she desires most. She wants material goods more than she wants a happy family. Or, she believes that having stuff is the key to a happy family. Regardless, her hunger for wealth drives David to the breaking point, and he dies. The closing lines of the story point toward this overpowering greed. David is dead, yet the comments being made are about how much money has been made on the horse race. There is more concern and happiness over the money than there is concern and sadness over the death of a loving boy.

And even as he lay dead, his mother heard her brother’s voice saying to her, “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.”

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There is a technical answer to this question, as well as a symbolic answer.

Technically, if you read the text closely, he probably died from some sort of feverish exhaustion.  He spent so much time riding the horse, and obsessing about making money and being lucky for his mother, that he physically wore himself down.  He didn't sleep or eat enough, and overexterted himself on the rocking horse.  His little body couldn't take it anymore.  Lawrence makes a point of describing his shiny eyes, his feverish glance, and his singlular focus.  So, he probably technically died of overexertion and exhaustion.

Symbolically, it was greed, or materialism that killed little Paul.  His mother constantly sought out more and more money, and in a conversation with Paul, revealed that luck is "what causes you to have money."  Paul already sense that she "could not love [him]," so, in his mind, he thinks that if he can be lucky, and make money, then she will love him.  His desire to be loved was spurred by her materialistic greed.  Even when he does win money for her, it does no good.  So, just as greed, and the desire for more money, is an insatiable and never-ending black hole of need, so was Paul's obsession with it, and his life was the sacrifice that, in the end, was paid.

I hope that those thoughts help a bit; good luck!

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