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Winner Not a Winner?
In the short story "The Rocking Horse Winner" by DH Lawrence, the writer creates a spooky fantasy in which three major themes, luck, money, and love combine to form a bizarre and deadly unity. The boy Paul, intuitively feeling the lack of love in his family, becomes the embodiment of his parents obsessions with money. Riding his toy rocking horse he receives supernatural messages that allow him to pick winners in real horse races. He believes that he thus renews his family's luck, by winning money which he equates on an unconscious level with love. Lawrence uses the unified themes of luck, money and love to create a symbolic representation of life that is not truly lived, but in which concepts of luck, money and love are perverted into an imitation of life, the falseness of which kills the boy Paul.
This is a story about the "devastating effects that money can have on a family" (Watkins 295). It is a story in which money has replaced love. The mother no longer loves the father. "She married for love, and the love turned to dust" ( Lawrence 967). Her love, Lawrence is saying has dried up:
The desiccating materialism of modern society has destroyed the ability of Paul's mother to feel love; in place of love, she lusts after 'luck' by which she means the power to get money (Watkins 1)
The family's house is "haunted by the unspoken phrase: 'There must be more money!' " (Lawrence 968). The children imbibe this atmosphere on a daily basis. They know there is never enough money for the parents to keep up the social standard to which they aspire. The parents are the role models who "set the tone (economic scarcity) and determine the values (consumerism) of the world they inhabit" (Watkins 297). This is a subject about which Lawrence is passionate:
This is one of Lawrence's most savage and compact critiques of what he elsewhere calls 'the god-damn bourgeoisie' and of individuals who, despite their natural or potential goodness, "swallow culture bait" and hence become victims to the world they (wrongly) believe holds the key to human happiness (Watkins 295).
The boy Paul becomes curious about all the dissatisfaction he feels in the house and asks his mother questions. The mother tells the boy that his "father has no luck" (Lawrence 968). With the help of his Uncle Oscar, the boy confuses luck with lucre, which implies the negative connotation of filthy lucre.
Paul's identifying 'luck' with 'lucre,' overtly accidental, is covertly quite correct, for the souci-psychological confusion of values has resulted in the equation Love = luck = lucre. To give his mother love Paul must have the lucre that comes with luck (Watkins 1).
The mother furthers the development of the boy's obsession by admitting that to her luck means money.
"Oh!" said the boy. "Then what is luck, mother?"
"It's what causes you to have money. If you're lucky you have money. That's why it's better to be born lucky than rich. If you're rich, you may lose your money. But if you're lucky, you will always get more money."
"Oh! Will you? And is father not lucky?"
"Very unlucky, I should say," she said bitterly (Lawrence 968-969).
It is obvious to Paul that his mother's love is based on their luck, that is, on their ability to supply her with money. His father has lost this love, because he is "not lucky" (Lawrence 969).
Immediately the boy, reaching out for love, asserts his difference from his father: " I'm a lucky person" (Lawrence 969). When he tells his mother that God has told him he has luck, he can see she doesn't believe him and: "This angered him somewhere, and made him want to compel her attention" (Lawrence 969). The attention he wants could also be described as love, love that gives him a sense of his own being and his life. Many Lawrence scholars see in Paul's obsession an Oedipal conflict. "Paul wanting to supplant his sire by supplying his mother with the fruits of the "luck" the father lacks" ( Beauchamp 1). This rings true, as, just as Jocasta sets in motion the tragedy of Oedipus, this tragedy too begins with "a son's victimization by his mother." (Kearney 181) In his search for luck that will win his mother's love, Paul turns to his rocking horse:
He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to 'luck'. Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse, charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him uneasily. Wildly the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him (Lawrence 969).
The rocking horse begins to give Paul winners in real horse races and with the help first of the gardener Basset and later his uncle Oscar, Paul accumulates large sums of money which he gives to his mother. With the first five thousand pounds she buys luxuries and "the voices in the house "suddenly went mad." They
simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: "There must be more money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money. Oh, now, now-w! Now-w-w - there must be more money! - more than ever! More than ever!" (Lawrence 976).
What Paul hopes will bring him love, elicits only lust in his mother, lust for more money. The reader realizes that the voice of the house is the voice of his mother's sexual craving. As one critic puts it, she is "in the throes of sexual climax," only, "she is a fiscal, rather than a physical nymphomaniac" (Beauchamp 1). Paul cannot ever attain love from his mother because love for her has become identified totally with lust for money.
Paul will die "attempting to satisfy his mother's perverted craving" (Beauchamp 1). Again and again he goes back to his wooden rocking horse. When his mother questions his attachment to the horse, Paul's reply aids Lawrence in tying the horse into the imagery of the themes of luck, money and love:
"Surely you're too big for a rocking-horse!" his mother had remonstrated.
"Well, you see, mother, till I can have a real horse, I like to have some sort of animal about," had been his quaint answer ( Lawrence 978).
The wooden horse represents all that is false in this family that equates love and luck and money and does not live a real life. As one scholar puts it,
The real and lively race horses, . . . whose names resound insistently through the story, represent . . . The possibilities of a fully lived life and are in ironic contrast to the wooden horse which with its 'sprints,' 'mechanical gallop' and 'arrested prance' is the symbol of the unlived, merely mimetic life of Paul's parents
Paul has never ridden a real horse, nor known what real love might be like. His horse, like his life, is wooden. The wooden horse becomes "the obverse of the vital horse symbol for man's lower psyche where the dark vital unconscious lies. This hobbyhorse upon which Paul willfully enters the realm of the unconscious is unvital to the point of deadliness; in fact it becomes the means to Paul's death" (Kearney 182). The horse symbolizes the boy's "artificial (thus fatal) approach to his vital unconscious plane" (Kearney 182). He puts himself into a trance on this horse to "plunder" (ibid.) his unconscious which he hopes will bring him love. Instead it brings him death. As the horse is wooden, non-alive, Paul's eyes, as he lies on his deathbed are "like blue stones" and his mother feels like her heart has "turned actually into a stone (Lawrence 980). This is what happens to those who equate love and money and luck:
Quite simply, the tale concludes that these equations are deadly. The mother, resenting a society run on a money ethic, has given the younger generation a murderous education (Harris 225).
Lawrence in his story "The Rocking-Horse Winner" puts together an ironic satiric story in which no one is a winner. The three themes at the core of this story, luck, money and love, unite to support Lawrence's passionate premise that perverted attitudes toward money create horror stories in human lives. A devouring mother who values only luck and money learns too late that her lifeless values have turned her loveless heart to stone. A boy who rides a wooden horse will not live to find himself a real winner in life's gamble. The love that Paul seeks with such frenzy cannot be found in this house where luck and money are…[continue]
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