The Rocking-Horse Winner by D. H. Lawrence

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At a Glance

"The Rocking-Horse Winner" key themes:

  • In "The Rocking-Horse Winner," D.H. Lawrence suggests that materialism and love are incompatible.

  • Hester’s pressure on Paul to satisfy her needs arrests his own maturation and self-realization.

  • D.H. Lawrence suggests that happiness comes from the inside rather than external sources like luck or money.

  • Paul's generosity in giving Hester all his money contrasts with her insatiable greed.

  • Paul's supplanting of his father as the family's breadwinner suggests a manifestation of the Oedipal complex.

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.

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.”


(Short Stories for Students)

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 entire section is 1,169 words.)