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.
Luck and Hard Work ThemeTracker
Luck and Hard Work Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner
“[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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”