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.
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.
To 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.