The Rocking Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence: Summary

The Rocking Horse Winner recounts the dark tale of young Paul and his cold, socially ambitious mother, a woman whose ruthless pursuit of wealth kills her emotionally, and him literally. Living in a style beyond their means.

David Herbert Lawrence

"In a pleasant house, with a garden, and ... discreet servants", the upper-class parents search desperately for money to keep up appearances, but they only dig themselves deeper into debt. "There must be more money, there must be more money" is the insistent whisper that their preteen-aged son, Paul, imagines he hears everywhere about him.

When Paul asks his mother why their family has fewer luxuries (namely, a motor-car) than other family members, she replies, "Because your father has no luck". The boy immediately connects luck with money and, further, with his childlike notion of God, whom his mother suggests, may be the only person to know why luck descends on some and not on others. A bizarre ritual develops in which Paul mysteriously seeks "luck" in the frenzied riding of his nursery rocking-horse. "He would sit on his big rocking horse, charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made [his sisters] peer at him uneasily. Wildly the horse careened, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him".

Somehow, inexplicably, magically, the boy hears from the horse's mouth, as it were the name of the horse that will win whatever major British horse race is about to take place. With the help of the family gardener, Bassett, Paul starts betting on the races and slowly amasses a small fortune without the knowledge of his parents. His maternal uncle, Oscar, discovers Paul's secret and counsels him to give some money anonymously to the mother. Paul eagerly agrees. That money instantly disappears, going to pay off debts and buy more things, notably a place for Paul at Eton.

The pressure to be lucky and to pick the right horse (which involves a combination of frenzied rocking and trusting his own instincts) finally becomes too much for the boy. His last big win literally costs him his life. He dies of brain fever, incoherently pleading with his mother to acknowledge how lucky he has been. The story closes with the tormented mother being offered small comfort by her brother, Oscar, who observes that the boy is better off dead than seeking so desperately after luck.

With this quotation in mind, "The Rocking-Horse Winner" becomes a sweeping indictment not only of one family's deadly lust for money, but of the spiritual death of England in general.

The Rocking Horse Winner

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Biography of D.H. Lawrence