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", why does Paul become extremely ill and die at the end?

Quick answer:

Paul's fate in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" is that he meets his death. He sacrifices his health in order to acquire money for his mother, who is constantly unhappy about her own lack of "luck" in life.

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It is clear from the story that what drives Paul to making himself ill is his repeated riding sessions on his rocking-horse. Paul is driven to finding out the results of the horse racing by his mother's greed for money, echoed in the whispers in the house, "There must be more money!" One could argue that Paul does this in an attempt to gain the affection of his mother as she is presented as distant, aloof and someone who finds it impossible to love her children.

When the chance comes to gain some serious money because of the Derby, a very big horse race in England, Paul is determined to find out the winner, even though he is obviously getting weaker. Note how he is described:

The Derby was drawing near, and the boy grew more and more tense. He hardly heard what was spoken to him, he was very frail, and his eyes were really uncanny.

You might also want to trace the way that Paul's eyes are described through the story, and how the more he uses the rocking horse to predict the winner, the brighter they blaze. Note the last time he uses it, his eyes "blazed", before he crashes to the ground.

Paul then dies because he gives himself over more and more to the rocking horse and finding out the winners of races so that he can gain money for his mother.

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In "The Rocking Horse Winner," how does Paul die?

In the text, it alludes to a strange fever that just takes over his body, rendering him weak, and eventually takes his life:

"His eyes blazed at her for one strange and senseless second...Then he fell with a crash to the ground...he was unconscious, and unconscious he remained, with some brain-fever...The third day of the illness was critical...He neither slept nor regained consciousness."

So, he collapsed, probably from exhaustion and fever, born from his obsessive hunt for "luck."  Throughout the story, he is so obsessed with making money that he stays up late in the night riding his horse, hoping for a revelation that will win his mother some more money.  So imagine a small child who gets very little sleep, unusual amounts of exercise, is fixated and obsessed with a certain life mission, and is zealous and intense in all that he does.  I would imagine that he slowly weakened himself, from not taking proper care of his body.  Kids need a lot of sleep, and studies have proven that stress undermines the immune system, making your body much, much weaker.  The descriptions of Paul show him becoming more and more feverish underneath his obsession; Lawrence describes his "bright eyes" over and over, hinting at a fever that burns underneath his skin, born from his intense pursuit of luck.  Eventually, it just wore him out, and his body was too weak to live anymore.  Lawrence is making a grave statement about people's obsession with money; he hints that it is not healthy, and only takes from people without giving in return.  Greed, materialism, and an unhealthy focus on the pursuit of wealth only sucks the life out of living, instead of making it better.  In this story, Paul was the sacrifice that greed asked.

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

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In "The Rocking-Horse Winner" how old is Paul when he dies?

This is an interesting question, because I don't think that the story ever actually says specifically how old he is, so we just have to use clues throughout to guess.  When Paul is introduced, it only says that there was "a boy," so no clues there.  Later, his governess, or nurse, said that he was "growing beyond her," and that he was too old to be playing on a rocking-horse anyway.  He is old enough to speak, reason things out in his head, and think abstractly, as reflected in his conversation with his mother about luck.  The story covers over the span of a year, and after Paul gives his mother the money, it mentions that he would be going to his father's private school in the fall.

Based on all of these clues, we can gather that he is at least 5 years old, probably 6 or 7.  Children who were being cared for by their nursery governess usually left their care when they went to school, between ages 5-8.  And since the story starts with him just barely growing out of that phase, and ends with him preparing to go to school the next fall, that is a good age to put him into.  All of this is using inference, or educated guessing, through taking the clues in the text to try to piece together a fact that isn't actually there.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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What is Paul's fate in "The Rocking-Horse Winner"?

In this story, young Paul seeks to create the luck which his mother believes has always eluded her. She sets the tone for their household, and Paul desperately seeks to make his mother happy by providing the wealth she believes she needs.

Paul discovers that if he rides his rocking horse for long enough, he is able to predict the upcoming winners of horse races. After successfully earning money and secretly funneling this to his mother, he realizes that his efforts aren't enough and that she needs even more to make her happy.

Between this sense of disappointment and his frenzied riding, Paul's health deteriorates, as is evident in various details preceding his final ride on the rocking horse, but he is resolute in his goal. He must discover the winner of the upcoming derby in order to secure a large payout for his mother.

After Paul rides for the final time, he becomes seriously ill:

Then he fell with a crash to the ground. She, all her suffering motherhood rushing through her, ran to gather him up.

But he was unconscious, and unconscious he remained, with some kind of brain sickness. He talked and threw his body wildly from side to side on the bed, as his mother sat quietly by his side without showing any sign of emotion.

Paul suffers for several days, but eventually, he meets his fate: Paul dies in the night. The final words that are offered over the young boy at the end of the story are about the money he earned in an effort to win his mother's affections.

Paul sacrifices his life in an effort to provide his mother with the life she's always desired; yet his mother offers no sense of gratitude for his sacrificial actions. The tragedy of his fate is made clear in the final line, when his uncle declares that Paul is "best gone out of a life" where he exists to simply purchase the love of his mother.

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