Capitalism in ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’
Capitalism in ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’
Money has come to control every aspect of our lives. People want to drive the latest cars, wear fashionable and expensive clothes, take their children to the best schools and live in the most exclusive neighbourhoods. The world around us emphasizes material wellbeing over any other aspect of life, such as core human values. As long as one is wealthy, they are respected and adored by many. This shallow concentration on material possessions had driven many to live a life they cannot afford, eventually ending in disaster. David Lawrence’s short story, ‘A Rocking Horse Winner,’ is a classic example of the detriments of concentrating on material possessions over the wellbeing of people. Hester, one of the main characters in the story, shows how capitalism and material motivations have destroyed our society, exemplified in the death of her son Paul.
Capitalism is an economic system that encourages private ownership of property, with profit as the primary motivation behind the production of goods and services. Most countries in the world use this economic system in contrast to socialism that focuses more on social programs to benefit the larger population. Under capitalism, every individual or group wants to earn more money, even at the expense of others. One of the disadvantages of capitalism is excessive materialism and consumerism. Competitive capitalist systems encourage people to focus on power, money and achievement rather than relationships and community values. The result of this is money becoming more important while people and relationships become less important. One problem with this is that the more money and possessions a person has, the more they desire. Although people imagine that when they can live a comfortable life, they will be satisfied, the truth is that they will crave more. This fact could not be more true, as shown in the short story ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner.’
The story is told from the third-person view by an omniscient narrator. Paul is the main character in the story, a young boy living with his mother, father, sisters and servants in their family home. Although the family appears to have a good life, we learn that most of it is pretentious as the family can hardly afford their lifestyle. Paul explains that their house always whispers, “There must be more money, there must be more money!” (Lawrence 2). This statement shows that the family always needed more money to satisfy their material needs. Paul once asked his mother why they didn’t own a car, and his mother replies that it’s because they are poor. Their poverty comes from the fact that Paul’s father is unlucky. From that point, Paul is determined to find the source of luck so that his family can stop being poor.
True to his intentions, Paul found his source of luck betting on horses competing in derbies. He learns more about horses from Basset, the gardener who helps him make bets and keeps the proceeds from him. Paul’s uncle named Oscar senses the boy’s keen interest in horses and asks him more about it. Oscar is astounded at Paul’s revelation and also takes advantage of Paul’s accurate predictions to make money for himself. Paul plans to give his mother a thousand pounds annually so their house would stop whispering (Biswas 11). Unfortunately, his mother was unsatisfied with five thousand pounds, and the house whispered more than ever. Eventually, determined to make more money, Paul rides his horse till he gets delirious and eventually dies, but not without making one final successful bet, earning his family eighty thousand pounds.
Hester, Paul’s mother, is to blame for Paul’s death. Paul died of an obsession with getting more money for his family to live a more comfortable life free of debt. The young boy was aware of his family’s dire situation with money, telling his uncle, “You know people send mother legal papers for money we owe, don’t you, uncle?” (Lawrence). He began gambling on horses to make money for his mother and free them from their debts. However, Paul’s efforts caused a lot of stress on him. He would spend hours on his rocking horse, where he would discover the winning horses. On the final night when he died, Paul overexerted himself on the horse as he knew his family needed even more money.
Hester is to blame for Paul’s death because her insatiable appetite for money and material goods drove Paul into desperation. The family had a social position to keep up, even though they could not afford it (Lawrence 1). The author of the story writes how the house seemed to whisper about the need for more money constantly. Hester was dissatisfied with her life and lack of money and tried her hand at different things but earned very little. Concerned for their family’s situation, Paul started gambling and made a significant amount of money, enough to keep them comfortable. He planned to anonymously give his mother a thousand pounds annually, but she demanded all of it at once. She used this money to purchase even more material possessions, and the money soon ran out. Paul realized that he had to get even more money to satisfy his mother. Hester’s obsession with money and material possessions forced Paul into an obsession with his gift of prediction, and it eventually killed him.
Although Hester is guilty of Paul’s death, she was motivated by capitalism and class structures. Hester felt the need for her family to maintain a specific position in society even though their incomes could not sustain their lifestyle. People in a particular social position are expected to live in specific neighbourhoods, drive certain cars, send their children to certain schools and associate with those from their social class. Hester and her husband’s desire to keep up appearances to belong to a social class drove them into debt and desperation. Even when Paul earned five thousand pounds, Hester spent all of it on material possessions, mainly because she wanted to be seen as wealthy and be accepted into a higher social class (Xiaoying 5). The class system is a byproduct of capitalism, where acceptance is based on wealth and material possessions. Capitalism focuses on material possession, shown by Hester’s obsession with money and disregard for her children’s wellbeing. Even at Paul’s deathbed, she was unmoved, demonstrated by the phrase “his mother sat beside him, feeling that her heart had also been turned into a stone” (Lawrence). Had Hester and her husband lived within their means, Paul would never have died.
In summary, money should never be the primary motive behind any actions as it leads to heartlessness and unethical behaviour. Paul died due to his struggle to get his mother more money, though she was never satisfied. The adults in the story all took advantage of a child to earn even more money. In the end, Paul suffered for their greed and lost his life. Sadly, the situation in the short story has become a norm in today’s world. Motivated by capitalistic ideologies, people work to get more and more money, even if they do so in unethical ways. The story is a lesson on the danger of idealizing money and material wealth over anything else. Hester and the other adults in the story should have protected Paul, but they took advantage of him for the money he earned them. Works Cited
Biswas, Uma. ““There Must Be More Money!” Employing the Gothic Economy in DH Lawrence’s The Rocking Horse Winner.” Our Vision: 11.
Lawrence, David Herbert. The rocking-horse winner. Dramatic Publishing, 1966.
Xiaoying, Wu. “The Causes of Paul’s Death in” The Rocking-horse Winner.” Journal of Anshun University (2012): 05.