The Rocking-Horse Winner

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Luck and Hard Work Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
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Hester defines luck as that which “causes you to have money.” She tells Paul that one is born lucky or not, and God chooses to make people lucky at random. Hester values luck because she believes that if she were lucky, she would be rich and never need to worry about working or losing her fortune. She tells Paul that she used to think she was lucky, but now she thinks she isn’t because she married someone who doesn’t make money (Paul’s father). Hester’s focus on luck rather than hard work or skill as the source of money gives her a kind of emotional benefit: she is able to blame her husband and the rest of the world for her lack of money instead of herself. Although Hester does try to work and make an income for herself, she doesn’t make a great deal, and certainly not enough to cover her spending. Of course, making a little money is certainly better than making no money at all, but Hester continues to complain about her luck instead of working more or spending less.

Hester’s focus on luck rather than work is disastrous for Paul. Paul internalizes his mother’s lessons, and in him the emotional anxieties of the house become almost physical. Paul becomes fixated on being lucky—a luck he can only achieve through mad physical effort on his rocking-horse—in an attempt to quiet his house’s whispers about his family’s financial anxieties. And Paul’s luck does come through: compared to the measly amount that Hester is paid for her work, Paul is able to win a truly enormous sum of money through his “hard work” (which, incidentally, is the very definition of useless labor—just rocking back and forth and producing nothing). But although Paul expends so much effort in the pursuit of luck, he is in the end very unlucky. Were Paul truly just “lucky,” he would be able to bet on a horse at random and that horse would win. Instead, Paul needs to work himself up into a frenzied state until he “knows” which horse to bet on. When Paul bets without “knowing,” he usually loses. Paul’s struggle, in the end, gives no easy answers about luck and hard work, and why some things make money and others don’t. Paul gains money not through luck, but only through his hard work and great personal sacrifice—essentially working for his luck—but Lawrence makes it clear that this is not an inspirational tale about the value of hard work, as the effort ends up killing Paul.

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Luck and Hard Work Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner

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

“[Luck is] 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.”

Related Characters: Hester (speaker), Paul
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

One day Paul, the young boy, asks his mother, Hester, why the family doesn't own a car. Her throwaway, bitter response is that the family is unlucky, specifically she and her husband. She then defines luck as "what causes you to have money," and goes on to say that it is "better to be born lucky than rich," since "if you're lucky you will always get more money."

This response has a profound affect on Paul's young mind. He becomes so obsessed with luck and being lucky that he begins to orient his entire life through this lens. Here, Lawrence portrays an attitude that he believed was plaguing modern society: Hester is materialistic and greedy, constantly desiring more money, but she does not equate success with hard work. Rather, she believes true wealth should be accumulated through luck; she shouldn't have to do anything. Likewise, since simple bad luck is the cause of her poverty (relative to her desires, that is), she doesn't have to do anything to fix it. She tries to work, but blames her modest income on a lack of luck and no fault of her own. Note also that believing that she is poor when in reality she is well-off (compared to most others) is another symptom of a greedy, materialistic society in which no amount of money or luck can satisfy the house's (and family's) hunger.


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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. 

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. 

“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 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).

“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.