“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence is a horror story. A young boy named Paul dies because he has assumed the role of the adult in the home. He tries to provide enough money to meet his mother’s insatiable appetite for upper-class living; he compensates for his father’s impotence as provider. He accomplishes these feats by riding a child’s toy: a rocking horse in a frenzied run to sort statistics about horses and trainers in search of a winner.
Paul has access to the stats because Bassett, the family’s groundskeeper, and Paul’s uncle are betting men. Paul can listen to the races while visiting Bassett and read tout sheets, too. As a clever boy, Paul puts this information together well, but being driven to earn his mother’s love and admiration are more important than being clever. Paul wants to prove that he is lucky, a trait most admired by his mother who, we’re told, has a stone at the center of her heart. Paul also wants to hush the voices in his home, the ones whispering “There must be more money.”
|Writers are readers, and readers recognize allusions that|
enrich their understanding and shape meaning.
Photo from the Coe College Memorial Library, Cedar Rapids, IA.
Stephen King also seems to find Paul’s story horrifying. He alludes to Paul to help explain Pete, the boy at the center of Finder’s Keepers (2015). Pete doesn’t ride a rocking-horse to find money; he finds buried treasure instead, but like Paul, he also finds there is never enough money to silence the desperate voices in his home.
Unlike Paul’s mother, Pete’s parents are not greedy. They are merely trying to survive after a national economic catastrophe and the one perpetrated by Mr. Mercedes. To help them, Pete tries to leverage the rest of the buried treasure consisting of collectible notebooks for more money.
Like Paul, Pete is clever, but both boys are ill-equipped to navigate the adult world, and both boys are ill-equipped to face off against Greed. Pete's greedy opponents are not merely psychological foes; they are dangerous criminals. These men not only threaten Pete’s life, they threaten the lives of the family Pete hopes to improve, then save.
Paul cannot survive the psychological stressors. He dies from the strain of being an adult. So does Pete even though he lives. Pete loses his youth--his innocence about the ends to which men and women come. King's allusion to D. H. Lawrence’s Paul serves to inform readers about the unnatural pressures put upon children when they are forced to provide for adults and interact with adults who never have and never will care about the needs and dreams of children.
Read D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” before reading Stephen King’s Finder’s Keepers in order to enrich your understanding of King’s allusion.
Explain your reaction to Paul’s uncle’s words of consolation to his sister after Paul dies.
Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.