The Rocking-Horse Winner Themes

The main themes in "The Rocking-Horse Winner" are materialism, happiness, and generosity.

  • Materialism: Lawrence suggests that materialism and love are incompatible. Hester is so focused on her own perceived sufferings that she fails to be an effective mother to Paul.

  • Happiness: Although Paul wins a significant amount of money, Hester is not satisfied and instead grows even more greedy. This suggests that happiness cannot be bought with luck or money.

  • Generosity: Paul's generosity in giving Hester all his money contrasts with her insatiable greed. His desire to help his family at any cost also contrasts with Uncle Oscar's opportunistic ways.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

This story is D. H. Lawrence’s strongest indictment of materialism and his strongest demonstration of the incompatibility of the love of money and the love of human beings. In Paul’s unhappy family, his parents’ marriage is unsatisfactory. His mother is sexually frustrated: “She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her.” Clearly, she feels not fulfilled, but violated.

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However, she does not seek the cause of the failure of her marriage inside herself, but rather outside herself, claiming that she and her husband have no luck. In confiding her disappointment to her son, she seductively invites him to take the father’s place in her life by finding luck for her. This task he sets out to accomplish. Thus, the preadolescent boy, who should feel sufficiently secure in his mother’s love and in the stability of his family so that he can seek outside relationships and embark on his own sexual course, is arrested in his development. Stuck in an Oedipal bind with his mother, he regresses from adolescent sexuality into sexual infantilism. Instead of riding his own horse, symbol of male sexual power, he rides a rocking horse, an activity that, in its frenzy and isolation, suggests masturbation rather than fulfillment with a partner.

Throughout, Lawrence condemns the modern notion that luck and happiness come from the outside, rather than from within; that happiness must take the form of money and goods rather than of erotic, parental, and filial love. Lawrence also points out, with psychological astuteness, that to supplant love with money is a deception through which everyone can see. In the story, no one is fooled. The mother, whose heart is too hardened to love her children, tries to compensate them with presents and solicitousness, but the children and the mother know the truth: “They read it in each other’s eyes.”

To give and to receive love, the only true fulfillment in life, is, as Lawrence points out, to relate to but never to control another human being: The loved one always remains mysterious, unknown, unpredictable. Thus, love, freely given and received, is the very opposite of Paul’s desperate need to know, to force knowledge, and to predict the future.

Although the reader never discovers how Paul learns the names of the winners, Lawrence hints, at various points in the story, that Paul may be trafficking with false and evil gods. This suggestion is made through his repeated descriptions of Paul’s eyes as looking demoniac: “his uncanny blue eyes” that had “an uncanny cold fire in them”; “his eyes were like blue stones.” This idea is also suggested by the religious language that surrounds Paul’s gambling. Bassett repeatedly refers to Paul’s correct prediction by saying, “It’s as if he had it from heaven”; “his face terribly serious, as if he were speaking of religious matters”; his manner “serious as a church.”


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682

In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," a young boy, Paul, perceives that there is never enough money in his family, he sets out to find a way to get money through luck. He discovers that if he rides his rocking-horse fast enough, he will somehow "know" the name of the winning horse in the next race. He begins to make money and secretly funnel this money to his mother, but the desire for more money only grows more intense instead of going away. He finally rides his rocking horse so furiously in order to discover the winner of the Derby that he falls into illness and dies, just as the winning horse earns his family an enormous fortune.

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.

The parents in the story drift from one thing to another, never really finding anything they can do to provide for the family. The mother "tried this thing and the other, but could not find anything successful." The father, whose main talents are having expensive tastes and being handsome, "seemed as if he would never be able to do anything worth doing." When Paul gives his mother 5,000 pounds from his winnings, rather than paying off debts and saving for the future, she spends all of it on material things, causing an even more urgent need for more money.

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. When the mother first receives the news from the lawyer that she has "inherited" 5,000 pounds from a long-lost relative which will be paid out to her in yearly increments of 1,000 pounds (a scheme dreamed up by Paul), she does not inform the family of their good fortune. Instead, she goes immediately to the lawyer and asks to receive the entire amount right away. Paul agrees, and the money is spent foolishly on more material things for the house. Instead of relieving the family's need for money, Paul's plan backfires and thus there is a need for even more money.

Paul and his mother are complete opposites. Paul, in his childish innocence, gives and gives to the family, without any desire for thanks and without any desire to keep any of the money for himself. He ultimately gives the most precious gift of all: his life. Hester, Paul's mother, has no idea where all this money is coming from and does not seem to care. Hester has become so obsessed with wealth that her heart turns completely to stone; she cannot even feel sad when her son dies.

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. Since the main way of earning this money—the rocking horse—is also bound up in sexual imagery, it seems clear that Lawrence intentionally characterizes Paul this way.

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