The Rocking-Horse Winner describes a young boy’s search for luck and love in a world with no love. Paul has a gift of picking the winning horse in horse races. His mother, Hester, in contrary, has no luck and even though she is outwardly successful, she is troubled by a feeling of failure.
The family’s expenditure exceeds its income and creates unspoken tension and this affects the relationships in the family. Paul and his two sisters recognize this tension and Paul even alleges that he can hear the house whispering, “There must be more money” (Lawrence, 1926).
Paul informs his uncle (Oscar) and Bassett, the gardener, about his luck on betting in horses: he has been betting using his pocket money and has won and accumulated some money. Both men place huge bets on the horse Paul identifies to be a potential winner. After their win, Paul and Bassett give Paul’s mother a very expensive gift, but this makes her spend more money, this upsets Paul and he works harder to be lucky.
As a Derby race nears, Paul strives to know the name of the winning horse. He does this by riding his rocking horse so that he can get to a state in which he can be sure about the winning horse. He remains sick on the day of the Derby but Bassett places bets on the horse that was identified by Paul, and even places a bet for Paul. The horse wins and Paul wins eighty thousand pounds, however, he dies at night.
The Rocking-Horse Winner presents a society in search of love and luck and this is evident from a number of characters. The main characters in the short story, Paul and Hester, are in search of love. Paul’s mother, Hester, entered marriage with a handsome man because of love, but the love died. Even though she has three children out of the marriage, she could not love them, and does not even love herself for she is troubled by a feeling of failure.
The closest she ever comes to finding love is through her son, Paul, but she rejects him too. Indeed, her lack of love for her children is shown when the author writes, “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” (Lawrence, 1926). While everyone thinks of her as a great parent, only she knows that her heart is hard and cannot love, not even her children who need it very much. To her, success and happiness means getting more money.
Hester’s desire for material wealth surpasses that of other important things such as love and self-knowledge. Her desire for money is insatiable, instead, they lead to disastrous results when she confuses money with love. In her pursuit of more money, Hester loses some basic family values.
Her main aim is to bring up her children in a flamboyant lifestyle, as a result, her relationship with her children and husband dies. Whenever she gets money, she overspends it. Although the family lives in a “pleasant house” complete with servants and a nurse, they take them as show off objects. Hester’s uncontrollable spending creates tensions inside the household and this is personified by the whispering sounds that seem to come out the house and say “there must be more money” (Lawrence, 1926).
Paul’s talk with his mother about luck makes him believe that her mother’s love can only be won with money and luck. She makes a strong connection with luck and money. When Paul asks her whether luck was money, she replies, “It’s what causes you to have money” (Lawrence, 1926). From this talk, Paul concludes that his luck would make her happy, and this would translate to love. In contrary, she becomes greedier and is more concerned about money than loving her son (Snodgrass, pp. 196).
Paul’s ability to identify the winning horse pulls Oscar and Bassett into the betting business. Paul would get onto a rocking boat and rock continuously, like he was part of the race, until he got into a state in which he was sure of the winning horse. At the final race, Paul drives himself harder and harder to identify the winning horse.
His mother’s insatiability and whispering house drives him to try more and more as he knew that he would achieve two important things if he identified the winning horse: make his mother happy, and win her love. Paul’s desperate actions are an attempt to win love from his hard-hearted mother.
These efforts leave him sick and weak. After Bassett tells him that he had won eighty thousand pounds from the derby race, he tells his mother, “…did I ever tell you? I am lucky!” to which the mother replies, “No, you never did” (Lawrence, 1926), this proves that Hester never loved her children, especially Paul. Paul dies that night after failing to win his mother’s love.
Lawrence, David Herbert Richards. The Rocking-Horse Winner. In The Norton
Introduction to Literature. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays, eds. Portable 10th ed. New York: Norton, 2011. Print.
Snodgrass, William de Witt. A Rocking-Horse: The Symbol, the Pattern, the Way to Live. The Hudson Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1958, pp. 191-200