’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” Essay, Research Paper
22 May 2000
The Character of Hester in Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”
Hester is one of the main characters in D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” The story describes a young boy, Paul, who tries to win his “mother’s love by seeking the luck” (Kaplan 1971), which she believes she does not possess. Lawrence “condemns the modern notion that happiness and luck come from the outside, rather than from within; that happiness must take the form of money and goods rather than the erotic, parental, and filial love” (Kaplan 1972). The story is an “ironic and materialistic tragedy” (2). Many characteristics of Hester are revealed as she begins to realize that her luck, which she believes she does not have, starts to come back all because of her son’s special talent he has with a rocking horse. To Hester, the special things that her son gives her are just not enough. Her greed, selfishness, and dominance over others emphasize her overpowering character. Throughout the story, the mother’s greed becomes more and more overpowering. The son, Paul, is very determined to find luck for his mother, but the mother’s greediness keeps nagging on Paul. Hester, the mother, tells her son that she is not lucky, and it is “better to have luck than money because luck brings money” (Kaplan 1971). To Hester, money is the most important thing in the world for her. Even though Hester knows she does not need the money, there is something in the house that entices her to think “there must be more money, there must be more money” (852). This incantation reveals the mother’s greed that emphasizes her character. This house becomes “haunted” (852) by the mother’s unspoken thoughts. Her thoughts are mostly about whether she really loved her son unconditionally. The mother’s will and her powerful materialistic desire “permeate the atmosphere of the house” (852) suggesting that the mother influences the houses odd behavior. Paul and Uncle Oscar’s conversation about the mother suggest that if she did know Paul was lucky, she would take complete advantage of that. What Paul does not realize is that, his mother has already taken advantage of him because she wants more and more money. She cannot get enough of it. Paul felt that if he was lucky, then the house just might stop whispering. The mother’s greed gets stronger and more powerful. Paul makes and “intuitive connection between his mother’s inability to love him and house’s insistent demands” (858). He mistakenly believes that, if he can bring the house enough money, all would be well. This implicates that the mother’s influence on Paul had made him give more and more gifts to his mother. Hester also becomes sexually frustrated, “she had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her” (Kaplan 1972). She feels not fulfilled, but violated.
Not only does the mother exemplify greed; she also reveals her selfishness. Hester is a selfish woman who blames her husband for not having any luck. Hester’s talent for drawing is another gift that she declines with her belief that she is unlucky. A “young woman artist earned several thousand pounds a year” (858), but mother only made several hundreds. Mother is dissatisfied here because another woman makes more, and she cannot stand the fact that someone is making more money than she is. This dissatisfaction reveals Hester as a woman who wants more and better things than anyone else. All Hester thinks about is she. Paul, her son, has five thousand pounds to give to his mother for her birthday, which will be distributed to her over the next five years. Hester becomes even “more obsessed with money” (Kaplan 1971). She apparently does not appear happy and wants all five thousand pounds at once. Paul’s mother should love him unconditionally, and he should “fell secure in his mother’s love” (Kaplan 1972), but he is not. One reason could be that his mother’s “heart is too hardened to love her child” (Kaplan 1972). She tries to give them presents, but the children and the mother both know and see it in each other’s eyes that she is too selfish to even love her child at all. The dialogue between Paul and his mother on the subject of luck is interesting. The mother answers the boy very “bitterly” (Kalasky 258) and with a laugh. The “boy is silent for a time” (Kalasky 258) and tries to look at her as if she meant it or not. This dialogue is why the boy’s (hunger for love is betrayed, and distorted into the pursuit of luck” (Kalasky 258). It seems as if the mother is just using her son just to get what she wants out of life and that is money.
Hester is also a very domineering mother. She “cannibalizes” (Discovering Authors 1) her son. She “seductively invites Paul to take his father’s place” (Kaplan 1972) in her life and find luck for her. Mother intentionally makes Paul feel as if he has to do whatever she says, and reluctantly, Paul sets out to accomplish this task for his mother. Hester has pushed Paul so much that he became very “frail” (860), and his legs were “uncanny” (860). Paul’s comprehensive need to satisfy the house’s demands to win his mother’s love has produced a noticeable physical change. The mother’s dominance over Paul makes Paul feel as if “winning has not freed him” (855) from his house’s insatiable demands. The mother has also put into Paul’s mind that the “only way to win his mother’s affection” (Kalasky 253) is through money to show her that he, himself, is luck and his father is not. Paul talks to his uncle and tells him that he does not want his mother to know that her demands are insatiable.
All of these characteristics help the reader to develop a better understanding of Hester’s character. The story is a “brilliant study in the sustained use of symbolism to suggest with bold economy the death-dealing consequences of the substitution of money for love” (Kaplan 1973). Hester’s greed, selfishness, and dominance over others has brought an understanding of her rudeness and self-pity towards others including her son.
Kaplan, Carola M. “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1986. 1971-1973.
Kalasky, Drew, ed. Short Story Criticism. New York: Gale, 1995. 253-259.
“Lawrence, D.H.” Discovering Authors. Vers. 2.0. CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale, 1996.