The Rocking Horse Winner


D.H. Lawrence



Theme of capitalism in "The Rocking Horse Winner"

The Importance of Money in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”


Lawrence, Rocking Us Into The Depths of Capitalism

By Amelia Bourdonnais


It is common knowledge that literature is meant to be read and that authors use literature as a means to share experiences and ideas. D.H. Lawrence is known for being a visionary thinker and an important figure of modernism. Many of his writings are known for their intellectual weight and social criticism (course notes). His short story ''The Rocking-Horse Winner'' is one of them. In ''The Rocking-Horse Winner,'' D.H. Lawrence criticizes capitalism. He does this by shredding apart the idea that if you have luck you will have money, and hence, be happy. Furthermore, he uses symbolic whisperings to represent greed in a capitalist society. Likewise, Lawrence shows us that the greed that pervades our society is also what causes individuals to become dehumanized and less important than money.

D.H Lawrence's short story ''The Rocking-Horse Winner'' portrays an upper middle-class family who's lifestyle exceeds its income. As the family members feel an unspoken anxiety about money, Paul asks his mother about luck: ''Is luck money, mother?'' ''No, Paul. Not quite. It's what causes you to have money'' (Lawrence841). Although the source of the family's anxiety is financial, Lawrence shifts the focus to luck.Money is rarely mentioned throughout the story. As Paul believes being lucky will solve the money problem, he desperately wants to be lucky: '' He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it'' (Lawrence 842). Lawrence uses repetition here to accentuate Paul's obsession with luck. Later in the story, the boy begins to place and win bets on horse races with the help of Bassett, the gardener. Paul '' [sits] on his big rocking-horse, charging it madly into space, with a frenzy that [makes] the little girls peer at him uneasily'' until he gets ''where he wanted to go’’ (Lawrence 842). We are lead to believe that Paul knows which horse will win the race by riding his rocking-horse. ''It's as if he had it from heaven'' (Lawrence 844). Paul gains money by gambling, and wins because some sort of mystical force tells him which horse to bet on. Hence, Lawrence reinforces the idea that luck is what causes you to have money, just like the mother


said, but the truth is quite different. Ironically, Paul's so called luck is also what causes his death. He spends hours on his rocking-horse, riding it ''madly'' and becomes ill. Therefore, Lawrence draws a parallel between the never-ending want for money, and labour. What first appears as a child's game is actually hard work. By riding his rocking-horse night and day, Paul tires himself and ends up dead (course notes). Therefore, is Paul really lucky? Does he gain money because he is lucky or because he works very hard to get it? Lawrence shows that there is no such thing as luck. ''I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I'm absolutely sure-- oh, absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!'' (Lawrence 850). Notice how Lawrence purposely italicizes 'get there' and 'I am lucky.' ''The Rocking-Horse Winner'' criticizes a capitalist society where we are lead to believe that it is all a big game, that everything is possible, that you might get lucky. It criticizes a society that hides the fact that you can fall in status and lose everything.''Luck cannot be forced, or willed, as Paul tries to do'' (Humma 53).

''Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction''(Fromm).

As mentioned earlier, in ''The Rocking-Horse winner,'' D. H. Lawrence criticizes capitalism by using the whisperings the family constantly hear to symbolise greed. Although money is barely mentioned throughout the story, an unspoken '' There must be more money! There must be more money!'' permeates the household (Lawrence 840). Everything about money becomes secret when it is actually what the story is about. The whisperings remain and get louder as the story unravels. Lawrence uses the whisperings to show that in a capitalist society people are greedy. They are tormented by the want for more money and are never satisfied. ''The Rocking-Horse winner'' is ''a symbolic formulation of social life in the grip of capitalism'' (Watkins 295). Furthermore, D.H. Lawrence uses the character of the mother to symbolize the 'hungry' system. Paul wins large sums of money with his bets and decides to anonymously send money to his mother to help her out. Unfortunately, his mother ends up spending more. She is not satisfied and the whisperings get louder again. Moreover, it is understood that the family needs more money to keep up with appearances. The father ''[is] always very handsome and expensive in his tastes'' and the mother's ''tastes [are] just as expensive'' (Lawrence 840). ''They [live] in a pleasant house, with a garden, and they [have] discreet servants, and [feel] themselves superior to anyone in the neighbourhood'' (Lawrence 840). Lawrence's short story is a critique of what he calls ''the god-damn bourgeoisie.'' His story portrays the devastating effects money can have on families living in a capitalist society (Watkins 295). The whisperings get louder because we ''swallow the culture bait and become victims to the world we believe holds the key to human happiness'' (Watkins 295). ''Lawrence's specific objections in the story are not to money abstractly conceived, but to money as it is understood and valued by a capitalist culture'' (Watkins 295). Even at the very end, when Paul dies, his family still thinks of money: ''My God, Hester, you're eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad'' (850). As Gandhi once said: ''Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.''

Furthermore, Lawrence's short story portrays a society in which money takes all the place and where individuals occupy a less important rank. In ''The Rocking-Horse Winner,'' people are not valued for who they are, but for what they possess. The mother values people according to whether they are lucky or not, to whether they have money or not. ''There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck'' (Lawrence 840). The belief that there is a flaw, and that some fault must be covered up pushes people to buy to live up to society's expectations. In ''The Rocking-Horse Winner,'' the characters are not described much, perhaps, to show how dehumanized people become when facing capitalism. Nevertheless, we do have a bit of information about Bassett. Ironically, he is not the protagonist of the story (Humma 54). Furthermore, Bassett does not hide behind his belongings because he is the only character that does not possess anything. Bassett has not been dehumanized by material possessions like the other characters. He is a gardener, and therefore, has no value other than his person, which is not much in a capitalist culture. On the other hand, Paul's parents are but vaguely described. Although the mother is present throughout the whole story, she remains unnamed until the very end (Evan 153). Lawrence purposely omits this information. The idea that capitalism causes people to be dehumanized and to value themselves through material possessions and appearances is emphasized. Likewise, the parents ''set a tone of need in their world that generates intense and pervasive anxiety, which then is passed on to their children, who interiorize the values and attitudes of the adult world and set about (as best they can) to satisfy the demands of that world'' (Watkins 297). Hence, the children are pressured to perform and make money although it is never really asked of them. Instead they hear whisperings. They are no longer children but little 'money-machines' in the making.

In sum, D.H. Lawrence criticizes capitalism by demonstrating that the desire for money that pervades Paul's family, that his withdrawal into a private fantasy world where one can force luck, and that the characters’ dehumanisation is caused by capitalism. Lawrence demonstrates that society has brought individuals to be extremely greedy causing a loss of humanity and identity. In a capitalist society, people are not valued for who they are, but for what they have.



Works Cited

1. Evan, Robert C.'' The Rocking-Horse Winner.'' Short Fiction: A Critical Companion; 1997, p150-157, 8p. Literary Reference Center. Print.

2. Fromm, Erich. ''Erich Fromm Quotes.'' n.d, Web. 23 Oct, 2010.< >

3. Gandhi, Mahatma. ''Mahatma Gandhi Quotes.'' n.d, Web. 23 Oct. 2010. < >

4. Humma, John B. Pan and ''The Rocking-Horse Winner.'' Essays in Literature, Georgia Southern College, Western Illinois University; Spring 78, Vol. 5 Issue 1. p.53-60, 8p. Literary Reference Center, Print.

5. Lawrence, D.H. ''The Rocking-Horse Winner.'' Fiction 100. An Anthology of Short Fiction. 12th ed. James Pickering. University of Houston, New York: Pearson/Longman, 2010. 840-850. Print.

6. Watkins, Daniel P. ''Labor and Religion in D.H. Lawrence's 'The Rocking-Horse Winner.''' Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry College; Summer 87, Vol. 24 Issue 3, p295, 7p. Literary Reference Center, Print.




The Importance of Money in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”

By Patrick Signe

Money does not leave anybody indifferent. Everyone even has their own idea about it when one evokes it. Some are able to live with the amount of money they have, while others need more. When D.H. Lawrence wrote “The Rocking-Horse Winner” in 1932, money was a common, yet unfortunate, conversational topic. Most people needed more money. Indeed, the Western world had been suffering the effects of the Great Depression since 1929. It is no surprise for that matter that money is a central theme in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, especially if we consider that D. H. Lawrence was brought up in a poor family and neighbourhood.

The Rocking-Horse Winner is about a young boy named Paul, and his relationships with his mother and with money. Paul’s mother did not love her own children; she loved money instead. She constantly needed more money, even if she and her family lived well. They actually lived well enough to afford a few domestics, and “felt themselves superior to anyone in the neighbourhood” (Lawrence 840). They lived above their needs, yet they needed more money, money with which they would feel even more superior. This created a tension within the household, as D.H. Lawrence wrote, “There was always the grinding sense of the shortage of money, though the style was kept up” (840).

  At one point, Paul’s mother responded to him that they did not have a car because they were the poor. She explained their financial situation by stating that his “father has no luck” (841). Paul then makes a parallel between the words “luck” and “money”. It is interesting that Lawrence explains this by the term “filthy lucre” (841), as lucre does indeed mean money. Paul’s mother furthers her interpretation of luck by stating, “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” (841). his mind off of horse-racing and the monetary gains that his predictions were giving him, for he was certain that they were not guesses. He would ride his rocking-horse intensely for hours on, until he was sure that he knew the winner. As any gambler, Paul was convinced that he had control, or even privileged knowledge, regarding the winner. However, his fixation for winning more money caused his death, and eventually his intense rocking ceased. Unfortunately, thanks to gambling, Paul was sick well before he died. He no longer had any other interests.

Paul had become like his mother, all he cared for was winning more money. As a child, he had no need for it, yet he wanted more. He needed more. Just like his mother, he developed greed. Most of what he won, he actually gave to her. Yet in her typical fashion, she had come to expect this extra revenue, even though she ignored where it came from. Because he was winning, Paul’s behaviour was even encouraged by his uncle who helped him participate in the horse-racing bets, for he was also greedy. Indeed, when his nephew won, so did he. This satisfied Paul, as he felt that his knowledge was needed and wanted. Paul’s uncle fuelled Paul’s sickness by exploiting it. They constantly won more money, yet they always needed more. In “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, D. H. Lawrence perfectly depicts the saying “Money does not buy happiness”. About Paul’s death, his uncle advanced that it was better to die than to live a complete life of misery because of a gambling addiction, “he’s best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner” (850). Undeniably, money does not buy happiness. On the contrary, money often causes sadness and loneliness; it often leaves an unsatisfying feeling of being unfulfilled.



Works Cited

Lawrence, D. H. “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” Fiction 100 – An Anthology of Short

Fiction. 12th ed. Ed. James H. Pickering. New York: Longman, 2008. 840-850. Print.