There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck.
The story begins like a tale, introducing a seemingly generalized character with a very broad characterization. In this first paragraph, Paul's mother is described through a series of negations: she has this, but she does not have that; she has that, but not this; and so forth. We never learn the name of this woman until the very last paragraph, and for most of the story do not see from her perspective since we follow her son Paul. However, we must recognize that her problems and contradictions are the driving forces of the story.
Although they lived in style, they felt always an anxiety in the house.
Paul's mother's dissatisfaction seemingly infects the entire household; or, to be more specific, the children, given that we never hear anything about the father. As with the first paragraph, in which Paul's mother is introduced, we see Paul's family refracted between outward appearance and inner reality: whereas they are able to keep up appearances, visible to all others and themselves, they are able to also sense the formless yet stronger force of dissatisfaction which remains invisible to others. It is significant that they feel this anxiety specifically in relation to their house, which is their primary possession and marker of wealth.
There must be more money!
Despite the relatively good social standing of Paul's family, any feeling of satisfaction that could come from their standing is overwhelmed by the insatiable desire for more material possessions, which seems to come primarily from Paul's mother. We should ask ourselves why it is that it is the house which whispers their want for money while the only thing Paul's mother says explicitly is that she, or their whole family, has bad luck. Which voice, that of the mother or of the house, if they are different, drives Paul?
Now take me to where there is luck!
Paul imagines luck to be akin to a place where he can arrive at through a journey of great passion and suffering - one which goes inwards and reveals uncanny truths about the outside world (i.e., the results of races). Whereas the rest of his family hears what is whispered and senses what is hidden on the inside, it is only Paul who endeavors to go there, driven as he is by the desire for his mother's love.
Between wonder and amusement Uncle Oscar was silent.
After Paul tells him of his gambling success, Uncle Oscar is split between a sort of fearful wonderment before something he does not understand and a condescending complacency towards childish behavior he assumes he does understand. Regardless of which is the stronger force, he keeps silent and thereby does not try to steer Paul away from gambling and even encourages him in it.
He gazed at her without speaking. He had a secret within a secret, something he had not divulged, even to Bassett or his Uncle Oscar.
Although we learn of Paul's rocking-horse and his riding it to "go to luck" explicitly and early on in the story, it is only later that we, and the other characters, even Paul's gambling partners, learn that it is from this rocking-horse that Paul learns his predictions. It is especially significant that Paul keeps this method of his a secret from his mother, because it ends up being very deleterious to his health, which his mother is able to sense.
She fought with the feeling, might and main, for she believed in common sense.
Usually it seems that common sense rules Paul's mother, making her own material well-being and her children - insofar as they are to be sent to good schools - her only concerns. But as Paul falls further and further into his gambling obsession, Paul's mother, in spite of herself, senses what is happening and discovers that she has such concern for her son in the very act of trying to repress it.
"Paul! Whatever are you doing?"
After being tormented by anxiety - not for her material possessions but for her son - Paul's mother comes back home and enters to a scene of pure explicitness: her son in the middle of one of his wild rides on his rocking-horse. She thinks before entering the room that, in a way, she already knows what Paul is doing; but the truth that he is burning himself out for her sake is too stark and intense for her to react to in any other way than to exclaim disbelief and confusion.
Then he fell with a crash to the ground, and she, all her tormented motherhood flooding upon her, rushed to gather him up.
Paul's mother's concern for him reaches its peak unfortunately just as Paul's powerful obsession also reaches its peak and destroys him. Lawrence has made it all but explicit that throughout the story Paul's mother is discovering a certain motherhood which was explicitly denied in the beginning. This is the moment when that inner growing force bursts out.
I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I'm absolutely sure - oh, absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!"
Paul claims to have told his mother two things: that his luck comes from his horse, and that he is lucky. Though his mother replies saying that Paul has never told her, he actually did tell her that he is lucky earlier. He has kept secret his method for "getting there" from her, but in a sense Paul was making apparent what he was up to to her.
The Rocking-Horse Winner Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Rocking-Horse Winner is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.