In this visual essay, created by Sophie Thompson as part of her dissertation at Nottingham Trent University, she applies a psychoanalytic reading to Lawrence’s short story ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’.

D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ is an exploration of the effect that money has upon the lives of those who allow it to control the way they live one’s life. The protagonist, Paul, lives in a house that is haunted by the phrase “There must be more money!”, despite nobody speaking it. This can be understood as a metaphor for the desire for wealth in his mother being so loud that it echoes throughout the entire home. When Paul decides to ask his mother why they don’t have money, she assigns blame to Paul’s father on account of the fact he “has no luck”; to which Paul is quick to insist upon the opposite, asserting, “I’m a lucky person”, and thereby indicating to his mother that he possesses something his father does not.

In this way a Freudian psychoanalytic reading can be applied, specifically with regard to the Oedipus complex. This is with irony as Lawrence himself spoke negatively of psychoanalysis, describing Freud in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious as “the psychiatric quack who vehemently demonstrated the serpent of sex coiled round the root of all our actions”. The Oedipus Complex is first introduced by Freud within his 1899 text The Interpretation of Dreams, and is said to occur during the latency stage of psychosexual development which spans age six through to puberty. Freud recognises the complex as the experience of an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex, which in turn causes us to compete for the affection of this desired parent with the parent of the same sex; deriving from an unexpected observation of the “part played by [the] father in the earliest sexual impulses of female patients”. The oedipal undertones in this scene in particular are enhanced by Lawrence admitting that “He didn’t even know why he had said it”, reflecting the unconscious desires voicing themselves without Paul being able to account for them.

As the narrative progresses, the oedipal complex within Paul grows more evident. After the interaction with his mother, Paul mounts his rocking horse and orders: “Now! […] Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!” The mounting of the horse itself possesses an inherently sexual innuendo, but his commands can both be seen as asserting control over something to compensate for the lack of control he has in achieving the sexual interest he desires from his mother; but also the repeating of the word ‘now’ accentuates how desperate he is to obtain it. It is perhaps noteworthy that we do not meet the father within the narrative, and this desire for ‘now’ may therefore be Paul’s anxiety that at any moment his father may return, the prospect of which carries the castration complex. This complex, according to Freud, refers to the fear within the child that they face castration at the hands of the father in response to learning of their desires for the opposing parent, in order to prevent the child from pursuing their sexual interest. In this context, then, Paul is desperate to acquire the luck that his father does not have in order to win the affection of the mother whilst he is out of the picture.

rock
‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ was broadcast as a film in 1949.

When uncle Oscar learns of Paul’s success, Paul tells him: “I shouldn’t like mother to know I was lucky”, explaining that she’d stop him if she knew. One might apply a Freudian reading to this and infer that Paul’s belief that his mother would stop his luck derives from his unconscious recognition that he must ‘become’ his father in order to win the sexual affection of his mother. To achieve this, he would have to adopt his father’s unluckiness, also. In this way we see these supposedly unconscious human desires conflict with Lawrence’s attitude toward money: Paul’s complex once a domineering force in his life is now secondary to the obsession he has developed to winning money.

This attitude is made even more explicit within the end of the narrative, which sees Paul die after becoming overwhelmed at the news of winning eighty thousand pounds. Leading up to which Paul, who was once haunted by house’s cries for money, is incredibly reluctant to leave. His mother asks: “Why, you curious child, what makes you care about this house so much, suddenly? I never knew you loved it”, illustrating that he now understands the desire to earn money and is, so to speak, ‘deaf’ to the voices, as the ones in his head that now utter the same phrase are far louder.

dhl-trunkTo see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage.  We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.  

 

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One thought on “Student essay: The Rocking Horse Winner

  1. While reading different aspects of D.H. Lawrence I came across the visual essay ´´The Psychoanalytic Implications of D H Lawrence´s The Rocking Horse Winner´, where the writer of the essay applies ´Freudian Psychoanalytic reading´, specifically with regard to the Oedipus complex. The writer of this essay applies it in this way: ´Paul develops Oedipus complex as the narration progresses by taking his interaction with his mother, mounting his horse where she refers it to ‘an inherently sexual innuendo´ compensation for the lack of control he has on achieving the sexual interest he desires from his mother, how desperate he is to obtain it, Paul must become´ his father´ in order to win a sexual affection of his mother.´ These are basic points I take from her essay. No doubt, there are certain psychoanalytical aspects in the short story if we go through the text and characterisation. But I strongly disagree the implication of ´Oedipus complex. ´
    Taking theory as my first point, what is the Oedipus complex? According to Development Psychology, the Oedipal complex ‘describe a child’s feelings of desire for his or her opposite-sex parent and jealousy and anger toward his or her same-sex parent. Essentially, a boy feels that he is competing with his father for possession of his mother, while a girl feels that she is competing with her mother for her father’s affections. According to Freud, children view their same-sex parent as a rival for the opposite-sex parent’s attention and affections.´
    Lawrence’s story opens with the echo of ´no luck ´and the mother does not feel love or affection for her children, even children know the fact that their mother does not love them. As the text explains, ´There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck… Only she herself knew that at the centre of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody. Everybody else said of her: “She is such a good mother. She adores her children.” Only she herself, and her children themselves, knew it was not so. They read it in each other’s eyes.´ So, the Oedipus complex does not fulfil the criteria of implication.
    There is nothing or any kind of desire to find mother´s love and go against father. On the contrary the story states, ´Although they lived in style, they felt always an anxiety in the house. There was never enough money.´
    What the reader comes across from the beginning, there is no love for children, there is always an anxiety, there is an acute sense of shortage of money. There is nothing to do with primal instinct to satisfy sexual or sensual shortage. I wonder how the financial pressure and anxiety have been moulded into the sexual interpretation? It is not that the child wants some sensual pleasure or ´sexual affection´ from his mother, he wants to decrease the financial burden he feels upon his mother, here what is extraordinary is the child´s obsession. It is natural that we can´t see our parents, siblings and loved ones in suffering whatever that may be. This natural instinct can´t be shifted towards pleasure gaining desire or like that.
    The next two paragraphs are more explicit regarding child´s obsession of the shortage of money, there are echoes in the house, there is whispering everywhere, even the rocking horse hears that whispering. Whispering and echoes of lack of money, ´And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud.’
    The conflict starts when the boy Paul wants to know why they don´t have a car of their own and the mother simply replies that they are not lucky enough to have a car. In this dialogue with her boy she blames that his father has no luck, and she further explains to him that luck causes to have money. An exploration begins within the mind of the child to have that luck that causes money. ´He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to ‘luck’. Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck.´
    The unconsciousness starts working in the mind of the child as the rocking horse becomes an inspiration to win the bet he puts on the real horses. He wants to help his mother to come out of that financial pressure, they have been obsessed with, even the entire house has drowned in it. He wants to bring that luck back. The child has developed a kind of disorder which can be described as Obsessive-compulsive disorder, where his obsession leads to anxiety and his brain is actively engaged in a kind of activity to bring out luck from anywhere.
    At the end of the story, when Paul´s mother finds him ´madly surging´ on the rocking horse, she is shocked and terrified by the condition of the boy: ´But he was unconscious, and unconscious he remained, with some brain-fever. He talked and tossed, and his mother sat stonily by his side.´ The boy wins eighty thousand pounds. He tells his mother that he is lucky, he can win. And here is the mastery of D.H. Lawrence, the boy dies, losing himself and winning the battle of luck. ‘I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there…I am lucky!’
    The whole short story revolves around the phenomena of luck, shortage of money and obsession. I disagree that there is any kind of hint of Oedipus complex or sexual connotation anywhere in the story, the story itself carries a burden of unusual anxiety and pressure, which, not only the characters feel, but also the reader of the story. D.H Lawrence does not allow a simple reading and a happy ending. There is nothing pleasurable, not only in the relations of the family but also in the environment of the house.

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