The plot of “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is fueled by a cycle of approval and greed. Hester sets this cycle in motion by seeking the approval of her neighbors. She does not have enough money to live the lifestyle that they do, but she wants their approval so badly that she becomes greedy for more material wealth. Her greed even makes her blind to the fact that her anxiety over money and the approval of others has a deep effect on her children. Paul and his siblings feel as though the house is constantly whispering that they need money, but when Paul manages to actually give Hester some money, her greed only grows. Instead of repaying her debts, she purchases new furniture and prepares to send Paul to a more prestigious school—investments which are tailored toward winning the approval of the outside world instead of providing comfort to her family or leading a sustainable lifestyle.
Paul’s desire for approval also leads to greed, although he does not want any money for himself. Instead, he wants his mother to think of him as lucky, so he becomes obsessed with finding luck—so much so that he whips his toy rocking-horse and rides him furiously in an effort to obtain this state of “luck.” In many ways, Paul’s greed is much less selfish than that of Hester, as he does not want money for himself, and only becomes greedy to help his mother and quiet the voices in his house. Hester’s greed, on the other hand, is entirely selfish. But Paul’s selflessness does not save him: he becomes so obsessive and intense in his pursuit of luck that he dies in the process. Ultimately Lawrence exposes greed as always harmful, no matter the intentions behind it.
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Greed and Materialism Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner
And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money!
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.”
“[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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
And yet the voices in the house, behind the sprays of mimosa and almond-blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: “There must be more money! Oh-h-h! There must be more money! Oh, now, now-w! now-w-w—there must be more money!—more than ever! More than ever!”
He became wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him.
“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!”
“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.”