A literary analysis of ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ by D H Lawrence cannot fail to mention the strong metaphor of the toy rocking horse itself. Other strong metaphors include the race horses and the idea of gambling in general.. The image of a boy rocking himself to illness and death on a toy horse suggests a powerful and upsetting metaphor for a child’s burning ambition and distress, and to understand the metaphor we must look more closely at the story itself.
In “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” short story by D H Lawrence, a child gets the feeling that circumstances in his family are deteriorating financially and feels utterly powerless to improve the situation. He sees the bitterness of his mother’s discontent and tries to improve her lot, although she seems to pay him little regard. All her attention seems concentrated on a husband who, despite his efforts, can never provide enough for her insatiable appetite for material things. Horses in general, gambling on their races and in particular, the rocking horse itself become metaphors for the child’s ambition, and the driven quality of his determination to succeed – at all costs.
The child, Paul, decides that there will never be means to support his family unless he assumes some sort of control himself. Paul decides to resolve the financial crisis through luck, chance, fate and gambling on horses. He thinks that he can divine winning horses in races by riding his own toy rocking horse. The horse metaphors suggest the themes of ambition in life turning to a blinkered disregard for the costs and consequences in a narrow given area, a drive bordering on obsession.
Either by luck or by judgement, Paul actually starts to win money and hopes it will make his mother happy. What he doesn’t realise is that she is the sort of person whose appetite will simply grow and whose discontent is of her own making. The need for money just balloons out of control and family members start to put pressure on him. The strain of duty, loyalty, responsibility, guilt, repression and denial of affection and reward becomes so unbearable that he rides his rocking horse so madly that he gets sick and collapses as his chosen horse is about to win a famous race.
D H Lawrence’s own relationship with his mother – one of love, but also of control – is relevant to the story too. In his drive to succeed, Paul echoes the need of the young Lawrence to please his own mother – and of course, highlights another form of ambition, that of her hopes and dreams for a gifted young son in avoiding the pit life and aiming for something arguably higher and more academic. The horse metaphor it seems, has deep roots in Lawrence’s own childhood.