Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Rocking-Horse Winner" is a short story that incorporates elements of the
fable, the fantasy, and the fairy tale. Like a fable, it presents a moral
(although it does so subtly, without preachment). Like a fantasy, it presents
chimerical events (the boy’s ability to foretell the winners of horse races,
the whispering house). Like a fairy tale, it sets the scene with simple
words like those in a Mother Goose story: “There was a woman who was beautiful,
who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck. She married for
love, and the love turned to dust. She had bonny children, yet she felt
they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. . . . There
were a boy and two little girls. They lived in a pleasant house, with a
garden, and they had discreet servants, and felt themselves superior to
anyone in the neighbourhood."
Rocking-Horse Winner" first appeared in Harper's Bazaar magazine
in July 1926. Hutchinson & Company then published it in London later
in the same year in a collection entitled Ghost Stories. In January
1933, Martin Secker published the story in London in another collection,
Lovely Lady. Viking Press in New York published The Lovely Lady
later in the same year.
action takes place in England in the years just after the First World War.
The places include a home in an unidentified locale in or near London;
London's Richmond Park; a car traveling to a home in Hampshire County,
southwest of London; and Lincoln Racecourse in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The
narrator mentions major races in England well known to readers of the story
when it first appeared in 1926. These races included the Grand National
Handicap Steeplechase at the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool; the Royal
Ascot at Windsor, west of London; the Epsom Derby at Epsom Downs in Surrey,
southeast of London; the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster in South Yorkshire;
and the Lincoln, at Lincoln Racecourse in Lincoln, Lincolnshire.
Paul: Boy who knows
that his mother does not love him or his sisters even though she outwardly
shows affection and treats her children kindly. After Paul receives a rocking
horse one Christmas, he rides it often and develops a strange intuitive
power that enables him to correctly predict the winners of horses races.
At racetracks, he wins thousands of pounds that he sets aside to defray
his mother’s debts.
Paul’s mother. She becomes dissatisfied with her marriage after her husband
fails to make enough money to support the elegant lifestyle that has put
the family deep in debt.
Paul’s Father: Man
who works in town and has promising prospects that never seem to materialize
because, as his wife says, he is unlucky.
Bassett: The family
gardener. He initiates Paul into the world of horse racing, and they becoming
Oscar Creswell: Paul’s
uncle and his mother’s sister. He provides Paul the money that the boy
uses to make his first successful bet.
Miss Wilmot: The
Two younger sisters, one named Joan and the other unidentified by name.
Chief Artist: Woman
who sketches drawings for newspaper advertisements placed by drapers. Hester
works for her to make extra money.
H. Lawrence wrote the story in omniscient third-person point of view, enabling
him to reveal the thoughts of the characters. The underlined words in the
following sentences are examples of passages that present the thoughts
Paul's mother only
made several hundreds, and she was again dissatisfied. She so
wanted to be first in something, and she did not succeed, even in making
sketches for drapery advertisements.
His mother had sudden
strange seizures of uneasiness about him. Sometimes, for half an hour,
would feel a sudden anxiety about him that was almost anguish.
wanted to rush to him at once, and know he was safe.
She had bonny children, yet
felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them.
They looked at her coldly, as if they were finding fault with her. And
hurriedly she felt she must cover up some fault in herself.
Michael J. Cummings...©
beautiful woman blessed with advantages marries a handsome man for love,
but the love eventually runs dry. Feeling as if her three children—a boy
and two girls—“had been thrust upon her," the narrator says, she resents
them in her heart. Outwardly, however, she behaves as if she loves them
dearly, and people say she is wonderful mother. She does not fool the children,
however. They know she does not love them, nor anyone else. They see it
in her eyes.
children and their parents reside in a nice house with “discreet" servants,
but the mother and father never seem to have enough money to support their
elegant lifestyle even though they both have incomes. At his office in
town, the father has promising business prospects, but that is all they
parents try various schemes to increase their income, but financial success
so the house comes to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must
be more money!
Christmas, even the rocking horse, the teddy bear, the big doll in its
pram, and the puppy hear the phrase.
day, Paul asks his mother, Hester, why the family always borrows the car
of her brother, Oscar Creswell, instead of getting one of its own. She
explains that they lack the money to buy one. When her husband tries to
make more money, he has no luck. If you're lucky, she tells Paul, you have
money. That is why it is better to be born lucky than rich. When asserts
that he himself is lucky, his mother does not seem to believe him. Peeved
at her lack of faith in him but wanting to prove himself to her, he goes
off by himself wondering how to generate luck. In the following days, he
rides his rocking horse in the nursery in a wild charge to nowhere while
his sisters play with their dolls. Getting off, he commands the horse “to
take me where there is luck," then remounts it and rides on, whipping the
horse on the neck with a lash Uncle Oscar bought for him. Paul's nurse,
Miss Wilmot, cautions him that his rough riding will break the toy, and
his sister Joan says, “I wish he’d leave off!"
Uncle Oscar visits him one day with his mother, the boy is riding hard
a winner?" the uncle says.
mother tells the boy that he is getting too big to be riding a rocking
horse. But Paul does not respond until he completes his ride. When he dismounts,
he says, “Well, I got there." His mother asks where, and he says, “Where
I wanted to go." When Uncle Oscar asks what he named the horse, Paul says
he has different names. In the previous week, his name was Sansovino, after
the name of a horse that won the race at Ascot. His sister explains that
the family’s gardener, Bassett, keeps Paul up to date on racing news. Basset,
who served as Creswell's batman (military officer's assistant) in the war
(the First World War, known in author Lawrence's time as the Great War),
loves horse racing and places bets for Paul. Later, when Creswell takes
Paul for a ride through the countryside to his home in Hampshire, he asks
the boy for advice on which horse to bet on in the Lincoln race. Paul recommends
says, “I only know the winner."
he began gambling, Paul says, he lost five shillings Basset had given him.
Then he started winning with ten shillings from Uncle Oscar and concluded
that his uncle had passed luck onto him. At all costs, though, he wants
his uncle to keep his betting a secret. After Creswell agrees to remain
mum on the subject, he asks the boy how much he plans to bet on Daffodil.
Paul’s answer—three hundred pounds—stuns and amuses him.
later, he takes Paul to the Lincoln races, where Oscar bets on Mirza and
gives Paul money to place a bet.
child had never been to a race-meeting before," the narrator says, "and
his eyes were blue fire."
wins and Mirza finishes third.
Oscar then asks Paul whether he is telling the truth about the amounts
of money that he bets. Paul affirms that he is and says his uncle can become
partners with him and Bassett if he is so inclined. But the boy again asks
him to keep everything a secret.
afternoon, Creswell takes Paul and Basset to Richmond Park (a recreation
area in London). There, Bassett tells Creswell that he and Paul lose only
when they are in doubt about a horse. But they always win when Paul regards
a particular horse as a sure thing.
as if he had it from heaven," Bassett says.
keeps all of Paul’s winnings for him under lock and key except for twenty
pounds held in reserve in the deposit of the Turf Commission.
another race, Paul is sure about a horse named Lively Spark when odds are
ten to one against it. Paul wins ten thousand pounds, Basset five thousand,
and Uncle Oscar two thousand. When Creswell asks Paul about his plans for
his winnings, the boy tells him he is reserving it for his mother, who
has no luck because his father has no luck. After his mother gets the money,
the house will stops whispering that the family is short of money, Paul
gives his uncle five thousand pounds to deposit with the family lawyer.
The lawyer in turn is to give Paul’s mother a thousand pounds each year
on her birthday but is not to reveal the source of the money except to
say that a relative had reserved it for her.
mother, meanwhile, had begun to earn extra money sketching figures of women
in the latest fashions. An artist friend for whom she works sells the sketches
to drapers for their newspaper ads. However, because her wages are meager—far
less than her artist friend makes—Hester remains unhappy.
her birthday in November, she receives her first thousand of Paul's winnings.
However, she asks the lawyer to give her the rest of the money to defray
her mounting debts. That afternoon, Uncle Oscar informs Paul of his mother’s
request, leaving it up to him whether she should get the full amount.
let her have it," Paul decides, saying he can get more when he bets on
the Grand National, the Lincolnshire, or the Derby.
In the following months,
Paul’s mother outfits the house with luxurious furnishings and flowers,
hires a tutor for Paul, and enrolls him in Eton (prestigious secondary
school in Berkshire) for autumn. But the house voices do not stop. Instead,
they become incessant: “There must be more money . . . more than ever!"
They scare Paul.
he studies Latin and Greek with his tutor, he spends most of his time discussing
horses with Bassett. Unfortunately, he receives no flashes of inspiration,
as before, and he loses a hundred pounds at the Grand National and another
hundred at Lincolnshire.
becomes wild-eyed and strange," the narrator says.
Paul says, “I’ve got to know for the Derby!"
mother tries to persuade him to take time off and go to the seaside to
calm his nerves, but Paul says he prefers to remain at home until after
the Derby. She assents to his wishes, but makes him promise not to preoccupy
himself with the races.
needn’t worry," he says.
reason the boy does not want to go away is his rocking horse, which is
now in his bedroom.
days before the Derby, Paul’s mother attends an evening party. Suddenly,
she becomes terribly uneasy about the boy, as if something bad is happening
to him, so she calls home and asks Miss Wilmot whether Paul is all right.
went to bed as right as a trivet," she tells Paul’s mother. “Shall I run
up and look at him?"
mother, satisfied that the boy is in no danger, tells the nurse not to
bother. Besides, she says, she and her husband will return home soon.
they arrive at about 1 o’clock, Paul’s father makes himself a drink and
his mother goes upstairs to check on the boy. Outside his room, she hears
a noise—“soundless, yet rushing and powerful"—coming from inside. When
she enters the room and turns on the light, she sees Paul riding the rocking
horse in a frenzy.
are you doing?"
“a strange, powerful voice," the narrator says, Paul cries out, “It’s Malabar!"
then falls from the horse and lies unconscious. His mother runs to him.
with “some brain-fever," the narrator says, “he talked and tossed, and
his mother sat stonily by his side."
shouts, "Malabar! It's Malabar! Bassett, Bassett, I know! It's Malabar!"
the next three days, Paul remains in a stupor. Neither his father nor mother
knows what Malabar means, but Oscar informs them that it is the name of
a horse entered in the Derby.
and Bassett later confer, and Oscar bets a thousand pounds on Malabar at
odds of fourteen to one. Bassett places a bet for Paul.
the evening of the third day, Oscar does not return, but his mother allows
Bassett to enter the room in hopes that he might say something to revive
Paul," he says, “Malabar came in first all right, a clean win. I did as
you told me. You've made over seventy thousand pounds, you have; you've
got over eighty thousand."
says, “I call that lucky, don't you, mother? Over eighty thousand pounds!
I knew, didn't I know I knew? Malabar came in all right. . . 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!"
you never did," said his mother.
the night, Paul dies.
he lies before her, Hester hears the voice of her brother: “My God, Hester,
you're eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the
bad. But, poor devil, poor devil, he's best gone out of a life where he
rides his rocking-horse to find a winner."
her preoccupation with material things, Hester neglects to provide Paul
the love he needs to develop into a normal, mentally stable child.
Sense of Values
makes stylish living the chief goal of her marriage. Consequently, her
relationship with her husband and the care and nurture of her children—in
particular, Paul—stagnate. Whenever money becomes available, she spends
beyond her means. Though she and her husband rear their children in a "pleasant
house" with servants and a nurse, they seem to regard them as objects for
display, like the furnishings in the home. Hester's spending and indebtedness
create anxiety that haunts the house and personifies itself by repeatedly
whispering the phrase: "There must be more money."
for material objects, stylish living, and money so obsesses Paul's mother
that she neglects Paul and his sisters. Paul then "inherits" her obsession.
But he wants to win money for his mother, not for himself, in order to
prove that he has the luck that his father lacks. Having luck and money
will make him lovable to his mother, he apparently believes, and silence
the house voices. When he discovers that the five thousand pounds he sets
aside for her is not enough to achieve his goals, he becomes obsessed with
winning more. His mania ultimately kills him.
Creswell acknowledges that Paul's wagering makes him nervous. But rather
than take steps to stop Paul, he encourages him and asks for tips on winning
horses. When Paul lies deathly ill muttering the name of his pick for the
Derby, Oscar runs off "in spite of himself" and places a bet on the horse
at fourteen to one odds.
rides his rocking horse like a knight on a quest. He seeks a great prize,
luck, that will enable him to win money wagering on horses. His winnings
will free his mother from a great monster, indebtedness, that consumes
all of her attention. Once free, she will be able to turn her attention
to Paul and give him the greatest prize of all: love.
the first paragraph of the story, the narrator says Hester does not love
her children. Nevertheless, outwardly she pretends to love them, and people
say, "She is a good mother. She adores her children."
climax occurs when Paul falls off his rocking horse after suffering a seizure
that leads to his death.
picks the winning horse in the Epsom Derby but loses his life. The fortune
he had amassed, eighty thousand pounds (the equivalent of millions of dollars
today), thus became his misfortune.
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of the communication in the story comes through the eyes. For example,
on the question of whether the mother loves her children, the narrator
says in the first paragraph that "only she herself, and her children themselves,
knew it was not so. They read it in each other's eyes." Regarding the house
voices, the narrator says, "They would look into each other's eyes, to
see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two
that they too had heard." After Paul tells his mother early in the story
that he is lucky, the narrator says, "The boy saw she did not believe
him; or rather, that she paid no attention to his assertion." In describing
Paul, the narrator frequently focuses on the boy's eyes to communicate
a mood or a meaning, as in these passages:
boy watched her [his mother] with unsure eyes.
the rocking horse, the narrator says, "When he [Paul] had ridden to the
end of his mad little journey, he climbed down and stood in front of his
rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was
slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright."
the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had
a strange glare in them.
Paul only gave a blue glare from his big, rather close-set eyes.
I got there!" he announced fiercely, his blue eyes still flaring, and his
sturdy long legs straddling apart.
boy gazed at his uncle from those big, hot, blue eyes, set rather close
child had never been to a race-meeting before, and his eyes were blue fire.
child, flushed and with eyes blazing, was curiously serene.
boy watched him with big blue eyes, that had an uncanny cold fire in them,
and he said never a word.
became wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in
got to know for the Derby!" the child reiterated, his big blue eyes blazing
with a sort of madness.
But the child lifted his uncanny blue eyes.
eyes blazed at her for one strange and senseless second, as he ceased urging
his wooden horse.
neither slept nor regained consciousness, and his eyes were like blue stones.
narrator also tells the reader that "[t]he gardener, a shortish fellow
with a little brown moustache and sharp little brown eyes, tiptoed into
the room, touched his imaginary cap to Paul's mother, and stole to the
bedside, staring with glittering, smallish eyes at the tossing, dying child."
H. Lawrence's attention to the eyes helps to convey the inmost feelings
of characters in some instances. In other instances, it enhances the mysterious
and sometimes unsettling atmosphere of the story by leaving open to question
what a gaze or a stare means. In addition, it correctly calls attention
to the fact that a good deal of communication between human beings is nonverbal
and that glaring eyes, frowns, furrowed brows, and shrugs can sometimes
communicate more meaning than words.
after the story begins, the narrator says Paul receives a rocking horse
for Christmas. Generally, such a gift is appropriate only for a child between
ages four and eight. Later, the narrator says Paul's mother enrolled him
in Eton, one of the most prestigious public schools in England, for the
autumn term (known as the Michaelmas Half, which runs from September to
the middle of December). Students who attend Eton range in age from thirteen
to eighteen. Paul died sometime in June, about three months before his
scheduled entrance to Eton. The narrator indicates the month of Paul's
death when he reveals that the boy won the Epsom Derby, which always takes
place on the first Saturday in June. Thus, Paul is thirteen at the time
of his death unless his birthday occurs between the first Saturday in June
and the September date of his scheduled Eton entry. .
Paul's age is important, inasmuch as it can suggest the state of his mind
at the end of the story. If he is thirteen—or about
to turn thirteen—when he suffers a seizure and falls off his rocking horse,
one may speculate that he suffers from stunted maturity and perhaps
a psychological disorder that alters his perception of reality.
the publication of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" in 1926, many writers have
suggested that Paul's frantic rides on his rocking horse are manifestations
of an Oedipus Complex. In an 1899 book entitled Die
Traumdeutung (Interpretation of Dreams) Austrian neurologist
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, introduced this
term to describe a psychological stage of development in which Freud maintained
that a male child unconsciously desires sexual relations with his mother
or a female child unconsciously desires sexual relations with her father.
In coining his term, Freud drew upon the story of Oedipus in Greek mythology.
Here is the story, in brief:
oracle warns King Laius of Thebes that his wife, Jocasta, will bear a son
who will one day kill him. After Jocasta gives birth to a boy, Laius acts
to defeat the prophecy. First, he drives a spike through the child's feet,
then takes him to Mount Cithaeron and orders a shepherd to kill him. But
the shepherd, taking pity on the baby, spares him after tying him to a
tree. A peasant finds the baby and gives him to a childless couple—Polybus
(also Polybius), King of Corinth, and his wife, Periboea (also Merope).
They name the boy Oedipus (meaning swelled foot) and raise him to manhood.
day, when Oedipus visits the oracle at Delphi, the oracle tells Oedipus
that a time will come when he slays his father and marries his mother.
Horrified, Oedipus later strikes out from Corinth. He does not want to
live anywhere near his beloved parents, Polybus and Periboea, lest a trick
of fate cause him to be the instrument of their demise. What he does not
know, of course, is that Polybus and Periboea are not his real parents.
the road to Thebes, which leads away from Corinth, Oedipus encounters his
real father Laius, whom he does not recognize, and several attendants.
Laius, of course, does not recognize Oedipus either. Oedipus and Laius
quarrel over a triviality–who has the right of way. The quarrel leads to
violence, and Oedipus kills Laius and four of his attendants.
Thebes, Oedipus encounters the Sphinx, a winged lion with the head of a
woman. The grotesque creature has killed many Thebans because they could
not answer her riddle: What travels on four feet in the morning, two at
midday, and three in evening? Consequently, the city lives in great terror.
No one can enter or leave the city.
Oedipus approaches the Sphinx, the beast poses the riddle. Oedipus, quick
of mind, spits back the right answer: man. Here is the explanation: As
an infant in the morning of life, a human being crawls on all fours; as
an adult in the midday of life, he walks upright on two legs; as an old
man in the evening of life, he walks on three legs, including a cane.
and outraged, the Sphinx kills herself. Jubilant Thebans then offer this
newcomer the throne of Thebes. Oedipus accepts it and marries its widowed
queen, Jocasta. Jocasta is, of course, the mother of Oedipus, although
no one in Thebes becomes aware of this fact until much later. Thus, the
oracle's prophecy to Laius and Oedipus is fulfilled.
Following are examples of
figures of speech in the story.
the shining modern rocking-horse, behind
the smart doll's house, a voice would start whispering: "There
must be more money! There must be more
And yet the voices
in the house . . . simply trilled and
in a sort of ecstasy:
"There must be more
eyes blazed at her for one strange
urging his wooden horse.
The child had never
been to a race-meeting before, and his eyes were blue fire.
Comparison of the eyes
It came whispering from the
springs of the still-swaying rocking-horse, and even the horse, bending
his wooden, champing head, heard it. The big doll, sitting so pink and
smirking in her new pram, could hear it quite plainly, and seemed to be
smirking all the more self-consciously because of it.
Comparison of the rocking
horse and doll to living beings
It was a soundless
noise, yet rushing and powerful.Simile
The voices in the
house suddenly went mad, like a chorus of frogs on a spring evening.
Comparison of the voices
He neither slept nor regained
consciousness, and his eyes were like blue stones.
Comparison of the Paul's
eyes to stones
Questions and Essay Topics
either of the following:
Add several paragraphs to Lawrence's story indicating that Paul's mother
becomes a better person after her son's death.
Add several paragraphs to Lawrence's story indicating that Paul's mother
remains unchanged after her son's death.
2. The second sentence of
the story says Paul's mother "married for love." Do you believe she was
truly in love or merely infatuated?
3. Is Bassett genuinely
concerned about Paul's welfare, or does he simply regard Paul as a "money
4. When Paul's mother calls
home from the party to ask Miss Wilmot whether Paul is all right, is she
motivated by guilt—and perhaps fear of being viewed as a bad mother—for
leaving him at home? Or is she genuinely concerned about his welfare?
5. Are the house voices
real? Or does Paul hear them because he is mentally disturbed?
6. Well-to-do English parents
in Lawrence's day frequently turned the care of children over to nursemaids
and others on the household servant staff. Do you think Lawrence wrote
"The Rocking-Horse Winner" partly to chastise parents for this practice?
Do you believe this practice can be beneficial under certain circumstances?
7. Write a psychological
profile of Paul. Include research to support your viewpoints.
8. Write a psychological
profile of Paul's mother. Include research to support your viewpoints.