The Rocking-Horse Winner

The Rocking-Horse Winner Summary and Analysis of Paul's Disappointment


After telling Uncle Oscar about his family's financial worries and his own desire to placate the voice of the house by satisfying his mother, Paul decides to give the five thousand pounds of his winnings to her. He gives Uncle Oscar this money, and then Uncle Oscar arranges with the family lawyer to give Paul's mother one thousand pounds a year for five years on her birthday. They make sure that she will not know who sent the money.

As Paul's mother's birthday approaches, the voice of the house becomes even more disturbing, and hoping to soon escape from it, Paul is anxious to see if his present to his mother will stop the worrying. However, as his mother opens the letter from the family lawyer, she only makes a bitter expression and does not say much to Paul. This is in part because of her disappointment with a job of sketching women's fashion, which she had taken up with help from a friend, but in which she makes less than that friend. She wants to be first, so anything less is upsetting.

Paul hears from Uncle Oscar that his mother has gone to the family lawyer to ask for the five thousand all at once, saying that she is in debt. Paul agrees to give her this money, and afterwards the family refurnishes their house and sends Paul to Eton, a prestigious private school which his father also went to. However, throughout all this, the voice in the house rises to an unbearable pitch.

At the Grand National and Lincoln races, Paul "does not know" from riding his horse and so loses money, making him very anxious. Sensing this, his mother becomes concerned and decides to send him to the seaside to relax. However, Paul persuades her to let him stay at home until after the Derby.


We may notice some of the many parallels between Paul and his mother in the latter's experience working as a fashion artist. Paul's mother starts to do the job because "she had discovered that she had an odd knack," much as Paul discovers that he has the ability to predict races. Moreover, it is said that she works secretly, perhaps because she wants more money without giving the appearance of trying too much; a similar line of thought seems to animate Paul, who fears that his mother would stop him if she knew what he was doing. The most important parallel is that both have desires of absolute proportions. For Paul's mother as an artist, "She so wanted to be first in something." For Paul, he is always only able to predict the winner, not the other horses. Since Paul's mother does not make more money than her artist friend, she continues to feel just as dissatisfied as before, and this dissatisfaction feeds through the voice of the house to Paul.

That said, Paul is not driven to gamble in the same way that his mother is driven to seek success as an artist. Paul tells Uncle Oscar quite forthrightly, "I started it [gambling] for mother. She said she had no luck, because father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it [the house] might stop whispering." After one of his big wins, he arranges for the money to be paid to his mother and waits with great anxiety to see how she will react to the letter from the lawyer about the money. He hopes that it will quell her dissatisfaction and therefore the house's tormenting whispers. If Paul can be said to have any desire, it would be a desire for luck, as he mentions the first time he rides his horse; but that would in turn be a desire for his mother's recognition and love.

Here we should note that his anxiety and desire are all in reaction to his mother's anxiety and desire. Paul's satisfaction is based on her satisfaction because she does not show him love while her dissatisfaction draws her into her inner stony self; however, because she can never be satisfied, neither can he. The only possible end is that he drive himself to the absolute end, to "get there" to "where luck is" in order not to fulfill his mother's desire, but to break it entirely.