English / Rocking Horse Winner Literary Devices

Rocking Horse Winner Literary Devices

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Autor:  anton  23 April 2011
Tags:  Rocking,  Winner,  Literary,  Devices
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Lawrence’s Literary Devices

When reading various works of literature, one often overlooks the importance of certain themes, symbols, and styles of writing that emphasize or even create the messages or feelings the author is attempting to convey. These subtle details are essentially the meat and potatoes of any work, and therefore one cannot comprehend the true meaning of the work without fully understanding these literary devices. D.H. Lawrence’s The Rocking Horse Winner is a short story chock full of literary devices that turns this story from a simple, sad tale of a young boy into a grand dilemma consisting of sex, greed, neglect, and hidden lust.

Sexual tones are expressed throughout the story through symbols, character interactions, and Lawrence’s word usage. The boy’s rocking horse and the manner in which Lawrence describes the use of this horse can be considered very sexual. “The rocking horse is his “mount” which is “forced” onwards in a “furious ride” towards “frenzy.” These descriptions are very suggestive of sexual activity” (Themes 2). The first time Lawrence tells of Paul riding his horse, Paul’s sisters are present in the same room. The sisters’ reactions to witnessing Paul riding his horse point towards him doing something inappropriate and sexual, as if he were masturbating. Lawrence writes, “When the two girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse…with a frenzy that made the girls peer at him uneasily…The little girls dared not speak to him” (Lawrence). The boy is clearly doing something that his sisters will not, and probably could not, associate themselves with. The climactic scene at the end, when Paul dies as a result of riding his horse too hard, strongly relates to masturbation. Even Lawrence himself indirectly relates this scene to masturbation in one of his other works, an essay entitled “Pornography and Obscenity.” Simon Baker speaks of this subject, “Likewise, it is impossible to ignore the allusions towards masturbation in Paul’s “secret of secrets” (especially in his death scene) if one recalls Lawrence’s sentiments in his essay “Pornography and Obscenity”: “Masturbation is the one thoroughly secret act of the human being…. The body remains, in a sense, a corpse, after the act of self-abuse”” (Baker 2). The reason why Paul rides the horse is to get the name of the winning horse in the races, a ritual he keeps secret, just as he would masturbation. The sexual ambiance gives this story an interesting, unexpected twist that adds to the total flavor of the messages conveyed by Lawrence.

The style of writing used by D.H. Lawrence in this story suggests that it is meant to be regarded as a legend or fable. This is apparent from the very first words of the story, when Lawrence writes, “There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck” (Lawrence). These words are on reminiscent of the traditional way to begin a legend/fable, “Once upon a time….” “This is a conscious attempt on the part of the author to use the traditional oral storytelling technique” (Themes 2). D.H. Lawrence uses these old-school techniques to convey the messages in his story in a manner that seems universal, and can be absorbed by all. The fable style is also apparent in the story through the characters. One critic speaks of the characters’ legendary qualities by stating, “The mother is the poor, unsatisfied fairy princess who yearns for happiness; Paul is the gallant knight on horseback who rides to her rescue” (Junkins 1-2), while another says, “This story also combines the supernatural elements of fable, mainly Paul’s ability to “know” the winners just by riding his rocking-horse” (Themes 2). Paul’s quest to make his mother, Hester, happy by giving her money also has the qualities of fables and legends, and Junkins tells us by saying, “He dies as a result of his quest; it is the relentlessly unsatisfied woman-mother which kills him. The ancient myth of the man-devouring woman is re-created in modern terms” (2).

In The Rocking Horse Winner, there are several relations to religion. In the beginning when Paul asks his mother if anybody knows who is lucky, Lawrence writes Hester’s answer, “Perhaps God. But He never tells” (Lawrence). Also, Paul’s Uncle Oscar says, “My God, Hester…But, poor devil, poor devil” (Junkins 1), which shows that the characters are occasionally looking to God and even the devil of the underworld, relating to the Bible. Simon Baker tells of the religious symbolism by saying, “Bassett perceives Master Paul as a seer, telling Oscar in a “secret, religious voice” that “it’s as if he had it from Heaven,” an irony considering Paul’s claim that “God told” him of his luck. Yet the Marchan framework is that of a hero who bargains with evil powers for forbidden knowledge and wealth…” (2). Paul essentially makes a bargain with God. God would give him the names of the winning horses, but as soon as these names gained him the huge amount of fortune he was after for his mother, he dies.

One aspect of this story that Lawrence included was the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex is a term coined by Sigmund Freud, and he suggests “that all boys go through a stage where they want to take their father’s place” (Themes 2). Since the father cannot provide enough money for his wife (Paul’s mother) to be happy, Paul decides to attempt to take his father’s place of being the source of an ample amount of income for Hester. “Paul has an Oedipal urge to replace his failed father in a family where money is takes as the nexus of affection” (Baker 2). The family considers money the basis for love, therefore Paul is yearning for his mother’s love towards him over his father. Piedmont-Marton points out that Hester makes “her feelings very clear to her young son, the mother “bitterly” characterizes her husband as “very unlucky.” When she confides in her son that she is dissatisfied with her husband, the mother sets in motion the boys futile quest to please her, to be the man she wants him/her husband to be” (1). Lawrence was a fan of Freud and his studies, and it shows in his writing. The inclusion of aspects of the Oedipus complex in the story allows real-life situations to be revealed in this story.

Clearly, without Lawrence implementing these literary elements, The Rocking Horse Winner would not have stood the test of time, and so it remains a classic tale because of his techniques. He cleverly used literary elements such as symbolism, unique styling, and even references to religion and Freudian theories to strengthen his work and the hidden messages that lie in between the lines. It is these elements that make this story and others like it timeless.

Works Cited

Baker, Simon. Reference Guide to Short Fiction: “The Rocking-Horse Winner: Overview”. Ed.

Noelle Watson. St. James Press, 1994.

Lawrence, D.H. "The Rocking Horse Winner." Literature: The British Tradition. Ed. Lindsay

Patterson, Glenview, Illinois: Prentice, 2003.

Piedmont-Marton, Elisabeth. Short Stories for Students: “An Overview of “The Rocking-Horse

Winner””. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.

Junkins, Donald. “The Rocking-Horse Winner: A Modern Myth”. EXPLORING Short Stories. Detroit: Gale, 2003.

Themes and Construction: “The Rocking-Horse Winner”. EXPLORING Short Stories. Detroit:

Gale, 2003.



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