Now you can view this blog on your mobile phones! Give a try.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Rocking Horse Winner' - Notes by Anjan K Behera

Following is the presentation notes on Perspective IV Semester lesson 'Rocking Horse Winner' a short story by D H Lawrence. The presentation was made for II year JPEng class by Anjan K Behera on 17 Nov.

The notes is also available in a pdf format at I thank Anjan for additing a new dimnetion to the edublogging experiments by making the notes available in a pdf format.

The Rocking-Horse Winner
One of the most famous short stories by D. H. Lawrence, 'The Rocking-Horse Winner' was first published in a London based fashion magazine Harper Bazaar in the year 1926, and later in his collection of short stories. It has been written keeping in mind the traditional fairytale structure. Based on the description of the family and the situations in the story, one can assume that the story is set somewhere between 1900 and 1930. It concentrates on a small boy (age unrevealed, though assumed to be 6-8 years old) Paul, who wants to bring his family closer.

The story in short
1. Introduction to the mother- Hester
• Described as ‘once beautiful’.
• Considers herself unlucky.
• Her main motto in life is to earn more money.
• Others appreciate her relationship with her children, but only she and her children know that she does not love or care for them as much as she pretends to do.

2. Introduction to Hester’s family and their house
• Pleasant house.
• Have servants, gardeners, and are rich.
• There was never enough money (a statement mostly derived from Hester or her husband’s conscience).
• The children can often hear the house whisper “There must be more money”!

3. Reason for their misery
• Both Hester and her husband have a small income.
• Both have expensive tastes.

4. Paul’s conversation with Hester
• Reveals more of Hester’s character and her beliefs.
• Hester takes ‘luck’ as something that would make a person rich.
• She considers herself unlucky as she has married an unlucky person, Paul’s father.
• Paul, her son is seen who appears to be very innocent and loving.
• Paul asserts that he is lucky, and that God himself has told him that.
• From now on, Paul’s main motto in life becomes to prove to his mother that he is rich, and make his mother happy.

5. Paul rides his horse
• Rides his wooden rocking-horse frantically at a mad pace and orders the horse to take him to a place where there’s luck.

6. Uncle Oscar arrives
• Oscar Cresswall, Hester’s brother is a rich man and owns his own car, making Paul believe that he is lucky.
• He discovers that Paul knows so much about race horses and even names his wooden rocking-horse after winning horses.
• He interrogates Bassett, the friendly gardener to find out more about Paul’s fascination with race horses, in vain.

7. Oscar discovers the truth
• He gets a tip from Paul to bet on Daffodil, a race horse taking part in the Lancelot Race, and wins.
• Bassett, Oscar and Paul make an agreement of secrecy of Paul’s magical ability to guess the winner of the horse races.
• Paul says he wants his to surprise his mother with the knowledge that he is lucky.

8. A birthday gift for Hester
• Paul has made quite some money now from the horse races and decides to give Hester 5000 pounds as a birthday gift.
• Done through Uncle Oscar’s lawyer who informs Hester that her relative has died and has left her the money, and it is to be delivered 1000 pounds every birthday for the next five years.
• Hester informs the lawyer she wants the entire amount at once.
• Paul lets her have the entire amount, and begins to concentrate on winning more money for his mother.
• Hester spends the money in buying new things, and this puts their economy in an even tighter spot.

9. Paul loses his mental balance
• Paul begins to get more stressed as every moment of his life is spent worrying about the next big horse race- The Derby
• A change is seen in Hester, when she for the first time shows some concern for Paul and suggests him to go on a vacation.

10. The final showdown
• Hester and her husband go out a dance two nights before the Derby, where Hester has unexplained fears for her son.
• On returning, she finds him to be riding his horse and screaming, “Its Malabar!”
• Paul becomes seriously ill, owning to the amount of stress he has been undergoing.
• Uncle Oscar bets his money on Malabar, the horse Paul had guessed would win, but never comes to visit Paul.
• Malabar wins and Hester discovers that Paul had made 70,000 pounds at the race.
• Paul dies.

Major Themes
1. The importance of a healthy Home Environment-
This story demonstrates the influence of home environment on a child’s development and character. As seen in the story, Paul’s family is quiet broken, with the parents in their own world and the children with no love from them. The children hardly get any love or attention from their parents. Hester remains lost in her never ending quest for more money, while her husband is never present. The very fact that he remains unnamed proves that he does not play a major role in the family. Research over the ages have proved that the role of parents in shaping a child’s development is crucial. Here in the story, Paul is never taken seriously by his mother, and is left on his own with no guidance from his parents whatsoever.

2. Responsibility and Maturity
The very belief that says grown ups are more responsible and mature than children is challenged in this story that portrays grownups as the most irresponsible and immature people. Even though Hester’s husband does not earn much, they feel maintaining a false social standard is necessary, and fail to see the amount of damage this does to their family. They spend more and more on servants and gardeners. This shows that they lack responsibility. They also fail to perform their duty as parents. They do not love their children, in spite of the society thinking they do. Hester appears as an impulsive person when she spends the entire 5000 pounds on buying new things instead of solving their older debts, and hence successfully brings puts their economy in an even tighter spot.
As opposed to this, Paul emerges as the person who treats his family as his own, and shows a lot of consideration for his mother. He shows empathy and gives his life to improve the condition of their family.

3. Magic versus Delusion
In the year 1996, a school boy confessed to his psychologist that during his visit to the Kohima War Cemetery, he had seen soldiers, covered in blood loitering around the place. Was this a true vision he had seen? Or was this a part of his imagination?

Paul is somehow able to know the name of the winning horse before the horse race takes place. This ability does seem magical, and since Paul himself says that God has told him that he is lucky, one cannot rule out the possibility of Paul being blessed with true magical powers. However, one cannot be completely sure if Paul actually did have magical powers or if he was being delusional, which is quite possible considering the fact that Paul remains under enormous stress and that he does not receive any attention from his parents. The extrasensory perception that Paul seems to acquire might just be a fragment of his imagination. Paul loses a hundred pounds on a race after incorrectly guessing the name of the winning horse. This I feel is an indication that Paul probably did not have an extrasensory perception, but depended on his imagination and luck to prove that he could guess the name of the winning horse.

4. Oedipus complex
D. H. Lawrence has touched this theme in several of his other works as well. Put forward by psychologist Sigmund Freud, this theory believes that young boys develop a sexual attraction towards the mother and desire the death of the father. Many see this as an obsession to compete with the father and establish them as the only one the mother loves. In the story, it is seen that Paul’s main objective, the very motto of his life becomes to please his mother and make her happy, and give her every thing that she wishes for. In a way, he shoulders his father’s responsibilities by taking in the duty of fulfilling his mother’s desires. Though several psychologists have rejected this theory, it is quite evident in this story. In Song of Myself, Walt Whitman uses the ‘horse’ as sexual symbol. Paul riding his horse to please the mother may also have a sexual meaning, or a sexual indication.

The Characters
He appears as a sensitive young boy who knows the exact condition their family is in. He loves his mother and after he gets to know that it is ‘luck’ that is going to make her mother happy, he sets out on his quest to prove that he is lucky. He devotes his life to earning money and improving their home environment.

Even though Paul has overtaken the responsibility of his father, he seems to be unaware of it. He hears the house whisper the lack of money and after Hester tells him that luck is something that enables a person to be rich, he associates luck with money. Even after Paul discovers his own ability to know the name of the winning horse before a horse race, he remains calm and handles the whole thing very smoothly. He trusts Bassett with his secret and depends on him for his information on races. He is innocent and gambles only to save his family and make his mother happy. He understands his family and is more attached to it than his parents. The one thing that makes him relentless in his pursuit for money is the desperation to prove that he is lucky, and the desire to make his mother happy. He becomes so stressed that one can see him losing his mental health towards the end of the story. It is this enormous stress that he is exposed to that causes him to become sick. And later, he dies making 70,000 pounds, proving he is ‘lucky’.

The second most important character in the story, its her character that gives shape to the story and make things the way they are. She is described as ‘once beautiful’, but after marriage, she has discovered that she is without luck. She is always at the want for more money. She does not love her children nor does she take them seriously.

Her relationship with her husband is not discussed at all in the story, except that she considers him to be unlucky. Her desire to be more rich makes her change professions in an attempt to make quick money, which finally result in the total ignorance of her duties as a mother. She fails to understand her children and love them. A sense of desperation to be rich is what occupies her mind all the moments of her waking as well as sub conscious moments, and that prevents her from being able to focus on her duties towards her children.

Hester is a spendthrift. When she receives the 5000 pounds, instead of spending it wisely, she spends them on buying new things that further worsen the economy of her family. It shows that she acts impulsively. So lost is she in the joy of getting the money that she does not even try to find out which relative has left her the money. She is described as a person of rich tastes. It is these reasons responsible for her supposed poor state. It is assumed that the sub-conscious competition with her brother Oscar is responsible for her being so obsessed with the notion of gaining more money.

Towards the end, she becomes affectionate towards Paul, after she senses that there is something bothering him. She asks him to go on a vacation. She becomes more and more responsible and caring, seen from the fears she has during the dance. She comes home after the dance to check on Paul. This shows that towards the end, she has undergone a change of heart. Though we do not know if this change will be permanent one, we know for sure that the ‘place in her heart that did not feel love’ has finally managed to succumb to motherly passion.

Oscar Cresswell:
He is one of the most interesting characters of the story. Both Hester and Paul take him as lucky. Paul makes his first profit on the ten dollars Oscar had given him. He is rich and most importantly, more satisfied with what he has, and that is what differentiates him from Hester.
Oscar is amazed to know that his young nephew knows so much about race horses. He speaks to Bassett to know more, and then after finally getting to know the truth about Paul’s unique powers, he appears quite understanding and agrees to Paul’s wish of secrecy so that Paul can prove to his mother that he is lucky. He encourages Paul to gamble and also helps him with the whole birthday gift arrangement for Hester. He bets his own money on the horses Paul senses are winners, and makes money.

However, towards the end when Paul falls sick, not once does Oscar comes to pay a visit. He bets his money on the horse Paul said would win. Inspite of his close relationship with his nephew throughout the story, this incident proves that Oscar was only using Paul for his own benefits. When he swore to secrecy on Paul’s pretext, it may have been his own wish to keep this a secret as had Hester found out about Paul’s powers, she would not have allowed him to take advantage of him. Oscar does not really advise Paul on how to be careful with is money, but goes on encouraging him to bet more and more. He does nothing to help Paul and does not even come to visit him when he is so sick. This brings out the hidden side in him, a business minded person who thinks of nothing other than his own profit.

The friendly gardener, Bassett is an honest and fair man who is completely trustworthy. His previous profession enabled him to know a great deal about horse races and so Paul gets all his information about races from him. Paul trusts him with his money and Bassett does not betray him. He maintains secrecy and does not leak out the story of Paul’s powers when interrogated by Oscar.

He treats Paul seriously and gives him the attention he deserves. He is humble, as seen from his dealings with Oscar. It is he who comes and informs Paul that he has won 70,000 pounds from the Derby race.

Hester’s husband:
He is hardly ever present even when events of serious nature happen. He has a job that does not earn him much. He has expensive tastes and thrives to live a social life that does not truly fit to their earnings. Hester considers him unlucky. When he returns from the Dance Hester, he knows how much tensed and worried has she been for her son the entire evening. Yet on reaching home, he does not even bother to go and check on Paul, instead he settles down to have some whisky. This also indicates that he and Hester are not that close. They both are so lost in their pursuit for money that they have cannot see the unfulfilled duties they have as parents and partners. He is mentioned only thrice in the story and remains unnamed.

For Examinations
From the examination point of view, students will need to concentrate on-
1) Paul’s and Hester’s relationship
2) Hester’s relentless pursuit for more money
3) Psychological aspects of Paul’s condition
4) Oscar Cresswell’s relationship with Paul
5) Paul’s secret
6) Paul’s deteriorating health

Apart from these, students will also need to focus on the themes, plotline and the characters. While answering the long answers, it is advised to follow the ‘five-paragraph’ answering style. Instead of giving summaries, it’s more important to substantiate your point or argument with examples that can be taken from both within or outside the text.

(Anjan's photo is taken from his blog: Tales from the magical land of Andalasia!)


Anonymous said...


The links and time of posting appearing in blue colour make it hard to read. A lighter shade of blue or black would make it easier. Just a suggestion.


Anil Pinto said...

Thanks, Shwetha. But do not know how to get rid of it. It comes automatically.

Any help friends?

Shwetha said...

You Can edit the colours on your blog, you'll find it in the Template option.
Or have you tried it already?

Anjan K Behera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anjan K Behera said...

oh yes..shwetha has the solution...i just checked and it works!

Shwetha said...

I always have a solution, Anjan. ;-)

Anjan K Behera said...

And that is exactly why i call you Her Majesty, Shwetha Bhatt of Ellesmera, Queen of JPEng!! lol

Anil Pinto said...

Thanks Shwetha and Anjan. Will try Shwetha's suggestion.

Anil Pinto said...

Tried. But did not succeed in applying to all posts automatically. I think that's possible by editing the html code = more time. So will get back later.

Anonymous said...

nice photo anjan bhai......

Anjan Behera said...

ya right!! I look so hideous in that pic!!!