The Rocking-Horse Winner

The Rocking-Horse Winner Summary

Little Paul makes an inquiry of his mother regarding the family’s current economic state. Actually, he asks why they don’t have a car like other people and why others refer to them as the poor side of the family. His mother assertively answers him by boiling the circumstances down to evidence: Paul’s father is unlucky.

The answer was assertive, but not affirmative. Paul demands to know what serves to confer luck upon one person while denying its possession to another. God knows. And now so does Paul: since luck is the domain of God and luck is inextricably linked to money, he can make money because he knows God made him lucky.

Paul comes up with a particularly childlike yet brilliant means of proving that God conferred luck upon him: he will pick the winning horses at the racetrack by simulating the race upon his rocking horse. The method of prognostication proves unnervingly and unerring efficient and, just as he hypothesized, money does prove to be inextricably tied to luck.

When asked about his plans for all that money by his uncle, Paul divulges his scheme to forward it to his mother on the logical assumption that the intertwining connection will also work in reverse: if luck brings money, then certainly money must bring luck. And his mother could really do with some luck. His uncle devises an arrangement whereby Paul’s betting can remain his secret while also allowing his mother to get the money through an anonymous gift of a thousand pounds a year for five years.

Paul is astonished by the reaction of his mother to this gift when she opens the envelope on her birthday. She isn’t exultant. She isn’t baffled. She isn’t angry or anything. She seems remarkably unaffected. Figuring that maybe she was disappointed by the amount, he decides to give her the remaining 4,000 pounds in a lump sum.

Things do change with the arrival of this impressive sum. The more Paul gives, the more it is demanded. In a desperate race to please everyone by making enough to satisfy demand, he becomes obsessive and single-minded despite efforts by his uncle to reassure him that he doesn’t need to work so hard. His mother attempts to get Paul to join the rest of his family at the beach, but he insists on keeping at until after the Derby. The Derby is lingering ahead as the toughest ride so far and he needs to prepare accordingly.

As the Derby approaches, his mother attends a party and leaves Paul home alone. Returning early in the morning, she is alarmed by a sound coming from his room that is somehow heavy yet not loud. When she throws open the door, she is aghast at the sight of her little boy in his pajamas sitting atop his rocking horse and madly urging it on like a jockey. He cries out the name Malabar, then falls to the floor as dead weight. Still ignorant of his power to foresee the winners of the horse races, neither of his parents comprehend what the name he shouted out actually means. Only his uncle realizes it is the name of the horse that will win the Derby. Even though he feels uncomfortable about it, the uncle cannot help but place a wager on Malabar.

The third day of the Derby arrives and Paul remains comatose and on the verge of getting much worse. When Paul regains consciousness, he learns that the wager placed on Malabar has earned him more than 80,000 pounds for his mother. Meanwhile, his mother remains oblivious to everything he has sacrificed for her to change her luck. Just before he dies, Paul seems to ramble senselessly in a brain fever with demands that his mother acknowledge his luck and his love for her. When she is unable to offer even this comfort to her dying son in his last moments, his uncle provides cold comfort for her with the suggestion that he is better off dead than living a life always searching for good luck.