The Rocking-Horse Winner

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Family and Intimacy Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Rocking-Horse Winner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon

When Paul dies, Uncle Oscar implies to Hester that she is actually better off now—she has eighty thousand pounds and no longer has to deal with a son who was unfit to manage in the world. Oscar clearly does not care deeply for Paul, even though Paul is his nephew and helped him win thousands of pounds. Hester initially seems not to care for her children either and feels cold whenever they are around her. When Paul falls ill, however, she is overcome with “tormented motherhood.” While she previously felt stony-hearted toward her children because she was not attached to them, she now feels as through her heart has vanished altogether and become a stone. Instead of feeling coldness, she now feels loss and despair. Paul and Hester are not close during Paul’s lifetime, although they may have been growing closer—but then Paul dies, and Lawrence doesn’t even show us Hester’s reaction. Instead we just see Oscar’s callous weighing of Paul’s death in terms of its monetary value.

While Hester’s emotions could certainly be interpreted as the feelings of love that a mother should naturally have for her son, some critics have interpreted “The Rocking Horse Winner” in a more sexual, psychoanalytical way. These writers see Paul’s riding motion and the frenzied state he falls into while riding as metaphors for intercourse or masturbation. Since Paul rides the rocking-horse to please his mother in particular, some think that this story has Freudian undertones. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed in the existence of an Oedipal complex, or that young boys are first sexually attracted to their own mothers. According to Freud, healthy children grow out of this desire, but those with neuroses do not. Thus, while “The Rocking Horse Winner” can be read as a story about the pitfalls of luck and greed, it can also be interpreted as a portrait of sexual neurosis, and how Paul’s frustrated Oedipal desires ultimately lead to his death.

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Family and Intimacy ThemeTracker

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Family and Intimacy Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner related to the theme of Family and Intimacy.
The Rocking-Horse Winner Quotes

Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: “We are breathing!” in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time.”

Related Characters: Paul, Hester, Joan
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines describe the uncanny feeling that the house is always whispering that there must be more money. This constant whispering is then juxtaposed with the family's silence. The family does not communicate with one another or share their worries or anxieties, displaying a lack of intimacy and openness. Thus the greed and pressure for money is transformed into unspoken tension, and from this tension to the haunting that deeply affects the young children. This haunting, we see, becomes an essential part of living in the family and in the house, since it is compared even to the act of breathing. Money is equated with breath, which is constantly needed and fulfilled subconsciously to maintain life. By making this comparison, Lawrence shows the perils of overvaluing wealth or mistaking money for something that truly matters or gives life.


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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."

“I started it for mother. She said she had no luck, because father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it might stop the whispering.”

Related Characters: Paul (speaker), Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar), Hester, Paul’s father
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after cutting Uncle Oscar into his partnership with Bassett, Paul makes ten thousand pounds on a bet. When Uncle Oscar asks him what he plans to do with all of the money, Paul responds with the quoted lines. He explains that he started accumulating money for his mother. She said that she was unlucky and her husband was unlucky, so Paul wanted to be lucky in order to "stop the whispering."

What Paul is referring to is the felt anxiety and pressure for money in his home, caused by his mother's greed and materialistic obsessions. We can note that when Uncle Oscar asks what is whispering, Paul responds with "Our house. I hate our house for whispering." When Paul tells his Uncle that the house always needs more money, Oscar simply agrees, and ultimately confirms Paul's idea that winning can stop the whispering. Thus Oscar's own greed also fuels Paul's anxious need to keep winning more and more money for his family.

Oscar then helps Paul arrange to deliver his winnings to Hester. We can also note that Paul doesn't want his mother to know (yet) that he is lucky, or that the money is coming from him. The relationship is based on the strange belief that he needs to give her money to quiet the house, but not share with her the fact that he is winning and is basing his entire reality on the notion of luck that she instilled in him. Thus Paul is seemingly acting out of love for his mother, but also is afraid of any real honesty and intimacy between himself and Hester.

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.

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.