58 pages 1 hour read

D. H. Lawrence

The Rocking Horse Winner

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1926

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Story Analysis

Analysis: “The Rocking Horse Winner”

Psychoanalytic literary criticism, a common lens brought to Lawrence’s work, holds that authors forge their stories from their own experience and neuroses, and “The Rocking Horse Winner” explores an unhealthy form of relationship that preoccupied Lawrence in his fiction all of his life: Paul’s mother expects to have her emotional needs met by her son. A contemporary term for such a dynamic is “emotional incest.” The author’s wife, Frieda Lawrence, said that within the first 20 minutes after meeting Lawrence, they were discussing Oedipus—and Lawrence explores emotional incest most explicitly in his autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers, where the mother is named Gertrude, like the Shakespeare character famous for her oedipal bond with her son Hamlet. Paul Morel, the novel’s protagonist, also shares his first name with the son in “The Rocking Horse Winner.”

The mother in this story is extremely unhappy with her husband’s failure to finance her expensive tastes. Whatever sexual intimacy might have conceived the couple’s three children, Lawrence implies that it died long ago. The narrator dismisses the husband—who is never named and is mentioned only briefly—just as his wife dismisses him for being “unlucky.”

The loveless marriage sets the stage for textbook emotional incest: The mother confides in the son about her feelings and desires, and the son rushes in to fulfill her needs.