The Rocking-Horse Winner

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The Rocking-Horse Symbol Analysis

The Rocking-Horse Symbol Icon

The rocking-horse has multiple symbolic meanings in Lawrence’s story. The fact that at the beginning of the story, Paul has a rocking-horse but not a tutor is proof of Hester’s skewed values. She is very materialistic, and prizes her ability to buy her children beautiful Christmas presents more than she values their education. Rocking-horses are also toys that children typically age out of, but Paul continues to use his despite the many protests of his family members. His attachment to the toy suggests that he is not growing up in a normal way. Although the rocking-horse itself is a toy, its form is based on a real horse—an animal that can be wild and difficult to tame (or predict how it will act, as Paul seeks to do in his betting). In some ways, Paul might be compared to the rocking-horse: he seems innocent, but there is a wild force within him that cannot be controlled. He rides his rocking-horse so fiercely that the seemingly-harmless toy comes to seem malevolent and powerful, and perhaps even causes Paul’s death.

The Rocking-Horse Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner

The The Rocking-Horse Winner quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Rocking-Horse. 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

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.

Related Characters: Paul, Joan
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning his mother's opinions about luck, Paul becomes obsessed with this reality and the idea that he is lucky. He begins to retreat even beyond the regular lack of intimacy he experienced in the house, stealthily turning inward and becoming exceedingly anxious and private. He wanted luck—and note that Lawrence emphasizes the strength of this desire by repeating the phrase three times.

Here we are introduced to the physical activity which he believes will drive his luck and which mirrors his crazed mental state: the boy sits on his rocking-horse and rides it (in place) in a frenzy. This motionless effort at once makes no progress, since the horse doesn't go anywhere, but is also rewarded, since he eventually seems to reach the state of "luck" that he seeks.

Note also that the frenzied riding of the rocking-horse can be read as sexual and Freudian, pulsed with the strange desire for Paul to "get there" for himself and for his mother. 

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And he would slash the horse on the neck with the little whip he had asked Uncle Oscar for. He knew the horse could take him to where there was luck, if only he forced it. So he would mount again, and start on his furious ride, hoping at last to get there.

Related Characters: Paul, Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar)
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Riding the rocking-horse and commanding it to "take me to where there is luck!" Paul whips the horse as if it is a living creature, and as if it will aid him in his quest for luck. He demonstrates his belief that he can force the horse to take him to luck, indicating that luck can be made or reached through sheer willpower and effort. The strange behavior seems indicative of neurosis and the anxiety generated by the materialistic pressure from the house and family, and also stems from the lesson on luck from his greedy mother.

We can note that these lines in particular lend themselves to a darker, more sexual reading, noting "mounting," "furious ride," and "get there."

“Oh, well, sometimes I’m absolutely sure, like about Daffodil,” said the boy; “and sometimes I have an idea; and sometimes I haven’t even an idea, have I, Bassett? Then we’re careful, because we mostly go down.”

Related Characters: Paul (speaker), Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar), Bassett
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

Uncle Oscar has recognized one of the rocking-horse's temporary names as that of a race winner, and has discovered that Paul and Bassett have been placing bets on horse races. Uncle Oscar then takes Paul to a race to see for himself what is happening, and they all place bets on Daffodil, who comes in first. After the win, Paul explains the process for choosing a horse and the betting history he and Bassett have.

In this passage, Paul explains that sometimes he's certain which horse will win. Other times he has an idea, and sometimes he doesn't know at all who will win. In these final situations, they bet more carefully, since they usually lose money. Here, we see a complicated depiction of luck. Paul isn't classically lucky, since when he has no premonition about who will win he usually loses money and picks the wrong horse. It is only through his intense focus and work that he is able to "get there" and discover for certain which horse will win. At the same time, the ability to work for this information is another form of luck. 

There was a strange, heavy, and yet not loud noise. Her heart stood still. It was a soundless noise, yet rushing and powerful. Something huge, in violent, hushed motion. What was it? What in God’s Name was it? She ought to know. She felt that she knew the noise. She knew what it was.

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

While at a party two nights before the Derby, Hester becomes overwhelmed by anxiety and the idea that her son is in danger. When she returns home, she goes to check on him, and outside of his door she hears a noise, here described. The noise is strange, causing her heart to stand still. Lawrence describes it with the paradoxical "it was a soundless noise." It is at once violent and hushed, rushing and still. She feels like she knows what it is, she must know it, but she cannot figure out what the noise is.

When she enters the room, she witnesses Paul "madly surging on the rocking-horse." This scene is often read as the climactic moment in the story's Freudian reading, in which Paul's actions are sexual or masturbatory. The uncanny nature of the sound mirrors Paul's strange behavior and uncanny eyes, making Hester's discovery extremely tense and dramatic.

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.

“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!”

Related Characters: Paul, Hester
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul's condition has worsened; on his deathbed, Basset informs him (and Hester) that Malabar indeed won the Derby, and that Paul has won over eighty thousand pounds. The lines excerpted here are Paul's last words. He finally tells his mother what he has been hiding for so long. He tries to explain about the rocking-horse, how if he rides and "gets there," he can become absolutely sure of the race's winner. He then reveals to her the true source of his anxiety, desire, and self worth. He tells her what he has asked Oscar and Bassett to hide from her: "Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!"

Hester responds with, "No, you never did." At his deathbed, she seems finally to have reached a state of proper love and care for her son. She says nothing about the announcement of the prize winnings. But her dull response seems to deny Paul the satisfaction of her finally knowing about his luck, and the line following her response is, "But the boy died in the night." His mother's efforts are too late. The cold tragedy is presented with absolute brevity. Hester's greed and materialism, along with her methods as a parent (instilling young Paul with a twisted worldview revolving around luck), caused great anxiety and anguish in a house that whispered for money. Obsessed with luck, winning, and "getting there," Paul drove himself towards insanity, illness, exhaustion, and a tragic early death.

“My God, Hester, you’re eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad. But, poor devil, he’s best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner.”

Related Characters: Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar) (speaker), Paul, Hester
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines, spoken by Uncle Oscar, are the last in the short story. They epitomize the problematic greed that Lawrence criticizes throughout the story. Oscar exclaims that the mother now has over eighty thousand pounds and has lost a strange ("poor devil of a") son, implying that she is better off now than with her son alive. We do not see Hester's response to her son's death. Instead, we see Uncle Oscar compare the worth of the boy's life to race winnings and immediately decide that the money is worth more. This position shows the perils of taking greed and materialism to the extreme, where a human life is lost in pursuit of wealth and his family is mostly apathetic about it.

Oscar's final, enigmatic sentence, suggests that Paul, the "poor devil" (a phrase Oscar repeats), is also better off dead than alive in a world where he "rides his rocking-horse to find a winner." In one interpretation, this final line condemns the world for its absurdity. But it also could suggest that given the pain, anxiety, and craziness Paul has experienced in his ceaseless rocking-horse ride to luck, he is better off leaving that world and life behind to find rest.

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The Rocking-Horse Symbol Timeline in The Rocking-Horse Winner

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Rocking-Horse 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
...“There must be more money! There must be more money!” Even the children’s Christmas presents—a rocking-horse and a doll house—repeat this refrain. The children do not speak of the whispering to... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...luck and becomes overwhelmed by his 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.... (full context)
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...is riding his horse. He suggests that Paul is too old to be riding a rocking-horse, but Paul refuses to respond. He finally finishes his ride and tells Uncle Oscar that... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...boys’ school. Scared of the horrible noises his house is making, Paul starts riding his rocking-horse more intensely than ever. But for a number of races, he fails to “know” which... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
Paul refuses to leave the house because he doesn’t want to leave his rocking-horse—a secret about which even Bassett and Uncle Oscar don’t know. When Hester decides that Paul... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...although it sounds familiar to her. She opens the door finds Paul furiously riding his rocking-horse. A flash of light illuminates Paul and his horse and he says, “It’s Malabar” over... (full context)
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...his mother if she thinks that he’s lucky. Paul says that if he rides his rocking-horse hard enough he becomes lucky. His mother says that she didn’t know this. Paul dies... (full context)
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
...off dead anyway, and he’s “best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner.” (full context)