Literary Argument The Rocking-Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence
The short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence centers on the themes of lack and provision. The horse signifies success and male power as the provider. The Derby allows Paul to meet his family’s financial needs. The rocking-horse symbolizes the source of income and hope for the family. It plays three roles in changing financial conditions in the family. First, the horse is the source of inspiration which motivates Paul, Bassett, and Uncle Oscar to make their bets. Secondly, it gives Paul a chance to remain engaged during his free time or when he needs an occupation. Lastly, it provides money as Paul, Bassett, and Uncle Oscar can participate in the competition. In fact, riding the horse is a symbol of male superiority, which, in this case, manifests through the Paul’s character. The hero brings money and meets the desire to appear wealthy in the society. Thus, the horse embodies the supernatural persistence to resolve problems, male responsibility for providing the family members with everything they need, welcome relief, and the desire that controls human life.
Paul’s family is in dire need of money. In fact, Hester’s overwhelming desire for a better life and wealth manifests it. She and her husband could not make as much money as they are eager to spend on sustaining their current status in society. Hester wants her family to be rich. Unfortunately, she believes that the prosperity might fill the emptiness she feels inside (Cummings 37). The mother considers her children to be a burden. Lawrence proves that “she had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them.” The presence of children in Hester’s life resembles the pain. She could not give them love which they need, nor could she be cruel directly to them. Therefore, she needs to compensate her lack of love with giving. She hides her true feelings with the presents increasing the need of money. Consequently, her actions highlight the lack of provider, a person who will fulfill the desire of the family to be wealthy.
First, the rocking-horse represents the supernatural aspect in human life. Paul learns the name of a horse that will win a race after he rides it until exhaustion. However, Paul does not always receive that information. He can predict the outcome for some races, but, regardless of how hard he tries, he never knows the results for others. The horse decides when Paul can know the information. In other words, the horse controls how much money the boy makes from the horse race betting. Lawrence portrays the wooden rocking-horse as a form of deity, which controls the lives and luck of the subjects. The determination with which Paul rides the wooden horse does not mean that he has acquired the information. To introduce the idea of the horse as a supernatural being, Lawrence mentions that Paul would ride the horse until he was in a trance-like state. Furthermore, the author shows that the boy could not explain how he learnt the name of the horse that would win. Bassett offers help comparing it to the knowledge gained from heaven (Cummings 2). In addition, Bassett thinks that Paul’s enlightenment resembles religious practices. The horse symbolizes the supernatural force which Paul and Bassett cannot explain. Unfortunately, Paul dies near the wooden rocking-horse as he rides himself to exhaustion feeling overwhelmed by anxiety. The source that gave Paul hope to have a happy family through his winnings and to restore the lost love among its members takes Paul’s life. It disregards all his dreams and aspirations. Even though the horse fulfills Paul’s wish to win money for his mother, it does not allow Paul to see Hester’s reaction. This decision has the mysterious touch of supernatural power which is superior to human knowledge. Thus, the horse not only controls how much Paul can earn but also reveals the information in a supernatural way resulting in the death of the boy.
Secondly, the horse is the symbol of male dominance and responsibility for being the family provider. Riding a horse is an expression of power and domination. When Paul does it or participates in the horse-race betting, he appears powerful. Hester insinuates that her husband is unable to supply the family with a luxurious life. Paul’s father fails to provide for the family as its members are willing to receive more than they can afford. Thus, Paul decides to take responsibility and become the male provider. In fact, the English families of the time when Lawrence was writing the story were a patriarch. It means that men were supposed to satisfy domestic demands. Thus, having own a horse and ability to ride it, Paul symbolizes an expression of masculinity. Therefore, being able to earn money and to predict the results of the race after riding the horse, the boy turns into a reliable and powerful a man who is eager to restore happiness in the family. Nevertheless, Lawrence uses the horse in this context ironically to foreshadow Paul’s short life (Hessel). Male dominance and the expression of masculinity depend on the ownership of horse and the ability to ride it. In the story, Paul’s horse is immobile. It can only rock when Paul rides it. The immobility of the wooden rocking-horse defines the complex nature of Paul’s status in his family. The rocking motion inside the real life proves that Paul’s masculinity and male dominance are temporary. Eventually, it leads him to death. The horse ascertains Paul’s position as the man of the house but, at the same time, highlights how short the artificial happiness can last.
Thirdly, the horse is the means for Paul to provide for the family. Both the wooden horse and the racing horses facilitate Paul to support the extravagant lifestyle of his relatives. Paul acquires the name of the winning horse with the help of the wooden horse. Then, he bets on the horse races with certainty that he knows the right name. Eventually, he usually wins and brings money home (Cummings 2). As a young man who is under employment age, Lawrence introduces the betting idea as a way of allowing an unemployed adolescent to meet the luxurious lifestyle of his mother. Consequently, the wooden horse and the real horses merge in the symbol of an endeavor to bring prosperity. Indeed, ordinary people struggle constantly in real life to have a decent life. Similarly, Paul should face the trials prepared for his existence. He understands that the only possible way to earn money is to ride the wooden horse persistently. He is desperate to make a living out of the knowledge. Thus, the horse epitomizes the human attempts to achieve the goal and to satisfy continuing desires of others. Undoubtedly, it is impossible for a young man of his age to make such a huge amount of money. Moreover, both his mother and his father are not able to do it as adults. Hester could only make several hundred pounds a year compared to another lady who could have thousands per year. She keeps mentioning that her husband is unlucky. When the children hear the house whispering that it needs more money, they understand that their family fails to manage their income and appetite for prosperity. Lawrence proves that the members are afraid to admit their mistakes blaming others for their troubles: “I hate our house for whispering” (Lawrence 9). This quote also underscores how it is difficult for Paul’s family to earn money and to meet the demand. Thus, Paul understands that expensive toys, furniture, and other luxuries require high income. The boy loves his mother and knows that in order to make her happy he should supply her with necessary proves of wealth. Therefore, the horse offers Paul employment for Paul and enables a helpless adolescent to make more than adults.
Lastly, the horse denotes how the burdens can be relieved. Paul and his sister want desperately to have their mother’s love and compassion. His sisters hear the whispering of the house while playing with many toys and dolls. The wooden horse was a toy that Paul received as a Christmas gift. Initially, he plays with the toy to pass the time and forget about the whispering house. When Paul realizes that the rocking-horse tells the winning names, he likes it more. He wins the bet and gives his mother five thousand pounds. However, he understands that his mother does not improve, nor did the house stop whispering. The boy feels devastated, especially when the sounds increase. To escape from the whispering, Paul rides his horse or stays in its company to save himself from anxiety (Cummings 2). When Paul cannot predict the names of winning horses for three consecutive races, he becomes more stressed. The boy decides to ride the horse permanently. In fact, he simply tries to win the Derby race in order to earn enough money which will keep his mother happy. As a result, Paul represents a strong motivation in achieving his goal. He expresses his frustration sacrificing his own life. Undoubtedly, betting is a temporary escape from the crisis the family is experiencing.
Lawrence successfully uses a horse as a symbol in the story to target an adult audience that understands materialism and the dangers that accompany it. Consequently, Lawrence refers to horse in order to symbolize different ideas in the story. The author incorporates various stylistic devices to convey the main message of the short story. For example, an expression ‘uncanny eyes’ symbolizes the supernatural nature of Paul’s interaction with the wooden rocking-horse which, in fact, has many others prominent characteristic in the narration. Lawrence describes vividly the events interacting with the readers. For instance, he depicts how absorbed Paul seems on his rocking-horse. The boy does not even hear when others call him or talk to him. Such an intense immersion into an activity implies that the person feels relieved from the activity. Therefore, the author employs different literary devices to address the perceptions of audience and stress the importance of the issues portrayed in the story.
A contrary argument may suggest that the horse symbolizes the Paul’s desire to receive Hester’s love. The fact that Paul dies after a long ride makes the horse symbolize the tool of his death. Moreover, Lawrence mentions that Paul has uncanny eyes, an indicator that boy’s health deteriorates (Hessel 4). Paul wants to feel his mother’s love, but Hester is incapable of giving it. He tries to please her and to understand whether she could be a loving mother. However, he finds support only when he is riding the horse. Paul’s passion for the wooden horse is abnormal. Even his mother tells him: “Surely you're too big for a rocking-horse!” (Lawrence 10). When Hester tells Paul he is too big to rock the horse, it is clear that Paul’s passion for the horse is misplaced. However, this argument is false since Lawrence uses the horse not only as the toy but also as the symbol of child longing for paternal love.
In conclusion, Lawrence uses the horse to symbolize the supernatural power in the lives of human beings. He also focuses on the male dominance and responsibility for being the providers of the family. However, the rocking-horse corresponds mainly to Paul’s desire to make a living and to feel relief. The wooden rocking-horse could allow Paul to enter another world when the boy could gain the knowledge hidden from the human eyes. At the same time, the horse resembles the deity that could deny Paul and does not give information which he needs desperately. As a result, the toy starts controlling Paul’s life. Besides, it determines when he wins and when he does not earn money. The supernatural influence controls the lives of humans. In fact, the human beings are not able to reach on their own without risking their lives. The horse signifies Paul’s masculinity and ability to provide for his family. At the same time, the horse symbolizes ironically the early tragedy in Paul’s life denying him a lifelong desire to have a high position in the family. The horse embodies the miracle of a young man overcoming the barriers that hinder adults. Indeed, the boy can achieve the dreams which bother his parents. However, he gives his life in order to satisfy greed of others. On the contrary, the horse can be a symbol of relief. For example, it brings financial relief to Paul’s family. The horse also provides Paul with shelter from his anxiety and unmet desires. Lawrence manages to intensify the meaning of horse in this story. He uses various stylistic devices in order to symbolizes different emotions and to reach the audience.