The Rocking-Horse Winner

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Eyes Symbol Icon

Lawrence frequently describes his characters’ eyes and uses them as indicators of a character’s emotional state. He pays particular attention to Paul’s eyes, which undergo a change over the course of the story. When Paul first begins to ride his rocking-horse, his eyes are described as being “close-set” and having “a strange glare.” This is in contrast the rocking-horse’s eyes, which are wide set and bright. As Paul’s obsession with luck intensifies, his eyes turn into “blue fire.” At the end of Paul’s life, he is so intensely focused on becoming lucky that his eyes are “uncanny,” or strange and unsettling. “Uncanny” can also refer to something that is supernatural, and the appearance of Paul’s eyes suggests that he has ridden his horse so hard that he has ceased to be human, or at least a normal, healthy one.

Eyes are also important communicative tools among the other characters in the story. The children recognize that their mother Hester does not love them by looking in her eyes. The children also use their eyes to communicate an unspoken understanding that they can all hear the house whispering.

Eyes Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner

The The Rocking-Horse Winner quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eyes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Rocking-Horse Winner published in 2008.
The Rocking-Horse Winner Quotes

He became wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him.

Related Characters: Paul
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

The expression of the house's voices frightens Paul, fueling his anxiety. He studies with his tutor, but he devotes almost all of his energy to races with Basset. A few big races have gone by without him knowing who will win. In this state of anxiety and ceaseless desire for luck, Paul becomes "wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him." These lines illustrate the tension building in him and the weird behavior he begins to exhibit. The mania is most apparent in his "wild eyes," which communicate emotions within the closed-off family where the spoken voice cannot. The growing greed and necessity for money is driving Paul towards insanity and illness, and his inhumane eyes symbolize this path and potentially communicate it to his family (though they don't seem to notice or care).

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He hardly heard what was spoken to him, he was very frail, and his eyes were really uncanny. His mother had sudden strange seizures of uneasiness about him. Sometimes, for half an hour, she would feel a sudden anxiety about him that was almost anguish. She wanted to rush to him at once, and know he was safe.

Related Characters: Paul, Hester
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

The Derby is approaching, and Paul still doesn't know who will win the race. He has reached a state of exhaustion, mania, and illness. The lines here say that he doesn't respond to what's spoken to him, showing that he is isolated and cut off from reality, focusing instead on his inward drive towards luck and money. His eyes are now "uncanny," and his mother, too, has become anxious.

Hester has changed from a cold, uncaring mother to an anxious, worried mother. Paul's strange behavior and eerie look in his eyes give her "strange seizures of uneasiness about him." She is plagued by sudden rushes of anxiety, seeming to share in her son's internal struggle. In the moments leading up to the end of the story (and Paul's life) Hester becomes invested in his wellbeing and obsessed with him instead of with money, but the effort seems to be too little, too late.

His eyes blazed at her for one strange and senseless second, as he ceased urging his wooden horse. Then he fell with a crash to the ground, and she, all her tormented motherhood flooding upon her, rushed to gather him up.

Related Characters: Paul, Hester
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse, Eyes
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

Hester has just walked in and discovered Paul "madly surging on the rocking-horse." She asks what he's doing, and he screams in a strange voice, "It's Malabar!" naming the horse that will win the Derby. After this prediction, his "eyes blazed" at his mother, and he stops urging the horse. The blazing moment of strange eye-contact could represent the only moment of true communication in this scene, as eyes are indicative of emotional states and communicate when voices fail.

Paul then falls off the horse, crashing into the ground, and his mother, feeling her own climax of motherhood and fear for her son, rushes towards him to help him. This scene at once shows the terrifying discovery, the physical manifestation of anxiety and greed in Paul, and the intimate, maternal desire of Hester to help her boy in a moment of crisis. This is also the moment that Paul's secret is discovered: until now no one knew that he used the rocking-horse to make his discoveries and predict the races.

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Eyes Symbol Timeline in The Rocking-Horse Winner

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eyes appears in The Rocking-Horse Winner. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Rocking-Horse Winner
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...of the whispering to one another, but they can tell from looking into each other’s eyes that they all hear it. (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...desire for it. Eventually he starts madly riding his rocking-horse, looking into its wide, glassy eyes and and asking it to take him to luck. He is certain that the horse... (full context)
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Uncle Oscar looks into Paul’s bright blue and close-together eyes and promises he won’t tell anyone. Paul tells his uncle that he is going to... (full context)
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Uncle Oscar takes Paul to a horse race, and Paul’s eyes look as though they are blazing when he watches the race. When Daffodil wins, his... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...he hates the whispering in his house and that they never have enough money. Paul’s eyes burn with “an uncanny cold fire in them,” and he tells Uncle Oscar multiple times... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...to “know” which horse to bet on and he begins to lose money. He grows “wild-eyed and strange” and behaves as if he is about to burst. (full context)
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
Hester finally notices the madness in Paul’s eyes and suggests that he go down to the seaside for some rest. Paul explains that... (full context)
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
As the Derby approaches, Paul becomes more and more nervous, and his eyes begin to look “uncanny.” His mother becomes very worried about him. Two nights before the... (full context)