Rocking Horse Winner: Psychological Criticism

The short story Rocking Horse Winner portrays destiny of a middle class woman and her family. The story vividly portrays that the woman has “no luck” unable to find the happiness and occupation for herself. Her son, Paul, desires to win at the house races spending much time and efforts at the Derby. In terms of psychological theory of Freud, subconscious values drive Paul and his desires, and lead him to a tragic end. Thesis Horse winner symbolizes “desire” of a family to prosper and become wealthy, but at the same time “desire” is subconscious ego of the characters unable to organize their life and family life.

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The short story is based on subconscious values and ideals imposed by the mother on her son. Repressed into the “unconscious” it still survives there, struggling for expression, appearing in disguised form as an annoying symptom, which is also exaggerated still more by the focusing upon it of the realization of another repressed wish–that of overthrowing his brother and father. This desire is projected into other males but is not attributed to females. Lawrence stands on heights with women without fear. Paul reports them, and suggests that one might attempt to show that these alone were adequate explanation. “He knew the horse could take him to where there was luck, if only he forced it. So he would mount again and start on his furious ride, hoping at last to get there” (Lawrence, p. 230).

It seems that fear and desire are the integral part of Paul’s personality. The origin of the fear may be sought for, and it is very likely to be traced to something that the child remembers full well but does not connect with his present fear. Thus it may be found to have originated in stories or experiences. Suppose that one of these is found to have been the “unconscious cause” of the present fearfulness. It does not relieve the child to be told of this origin, or to have the earlier experience called to mind. It may indeed only enhance his fright, reinforcing the effect of the falling objects which continue to strike the roof. “Paul’s mother only made several hundreds, and she was again dissatisfied. She so wanted to be first in something, and she did not succeed, even in making sketches for drapery advertisements” (Lawrence, p. 236). Even if this explanation is unverifiable, but only a “happy thought,” it is likely to be efficacious. It affords or facilitates a cognitive, rather than an emotional reaction to the present stimulus (Beauchamp, p. 32).

The key to both these problems lies in the ambiguity of Pauls’ attitude to his mother. This attitude is, of course, basically one of loving regret for having abandoned her; but Laurence underlines that the alternative presentations of the same incident, there is a distinct, if guarded, hint of incestuous attraction between the mother and son. Physically, this took the form of disorientation and frequent falls (as mother spends off the money given by Paul). The problem is that the unconscious wishes exist but it is difficult to determine the nature of the barriers to their realization, and to map out the lines of compromise (Squires, p. 1). This formula is applied to all manner of cases. So much for the alleged facts. According to Freud, the charcter has suppressed subconscious values an incestuous desire for and love of his mother. There are two repressed wishes, one of these being a “repressed desire to experience a moral fall” in connection with the mother. Such words as “fall from grace,” and the like, show the nature of this desire, and explain why the desire to fall from a great height symbolically gratified or expressed this unconscious longing. But there is said to have been also a second unconscious, repressed wish, namely, the desire to make someone else fall-to throw them down or to do them harm  – which originated in his longing to tear his own brother from his mother’s arms and from his jealous hostility to his father (Beauchamp, p. 32). Now, by the mechanism of projection this wish becomes lodged in the mind of others, especially of other men. The main character thus develops the notion that they also have the desire to throw him down, that is, displace him, overthrow him from his privileged place. Thus the fear of standing by another man on a high place is said symbolically to express this second unconscious striving. Paul refuse to accept the life that makes their family a subordinate to money. “Poor devil, poor devil, he’s best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner” (Lawrence, p. 243).

In sum, the short story vividly portrays that subconscious values drive the main character and his actions, his life and choices. Paul seems to take to the audience, a stance that is much more subtle and ambiguous than the sentimental, poetic sincerity that has determined the way of thoughts and actions. Subconscious desire for prosperity leads to the terror and the glory of life, and inability of Paul to change life circumstances and his destiny. The main characters struggle toward the achievement of wealth against poverty and life grievances.

Works Cited

  1. Beauchamp, G. Lawrence’s the Rocking-House Winner. The Explicator, 31 (1973), 54.
  2. Lawrence, D.H. The Woman who Rode Away and Other Stories (1928) edited by Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 230-243
  3. Squires, M. Modernism and the Contours of Violence in D. H. Lawrence’s Fiction. Studies in the Novel, 39 (2007), 1.
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