In “The Rocking Horse Winner,” D. H. Lawrence seems to deliberately present a young mother of limited dimension, and one lacking in any maternal feeling. From the story’s beginning, Hester is revealed in a clinical way, which reflects the absence of warmth in her. She did marry for love, but there is the clear sense that this is a mistake she is destined to live with, as though she had been weak and ignored her better judgment. As Lawrence writes her, Hester is calculating. She is fully aware of her lack of natural feeling: “When her children were present, she always felt the center of her heart go hard” (Lawrence 100). She is determined, however, to never expose this. The neighbors see her as a devoted and caring mother but this is an act, and there is as well a sense that maintaining it is a perpetual struggle for the woman. From the beginning, then, the reader encounters a Hester who is simultaneously unhappy and unfeeling, a mother unable to love her children, and a woman facing a life of continual efforts to keep up appearances and live as comfortably as she can.
This innate coldness of Hester then essentially places her as a part of Paul’s environment in the story. The house whispers that more money is always needed, and it is understood that this atmosphere’s source is Hester. In effect, she is the house and the core of Paul’s reality. Paul comprehends this in his way; as there is no love from her, he understands that money is the only way to reach her, so Hester’s character is consistently remote. She exists as the primary force, yet she is never overtly revealed as a whole human. Instead, Lawrence emphasizes how the lack of feeling in her so profoundly marks her child.
At the same time, however, Lawrence provides clues that expand on her nature, if in sad and subtle ways. For example, the reader gains an idea of Hester’s misery when she replies to Paul’s question about luck, and whether it is the same thing as money: “’No, Paul. Not quite. It’s what causes you to have money’” (101). She cannot relate to her child as a mother, but she can share with him elements of her being and thinking, as though she wants to prepare him for the hardships of life. More exactly, and in a distanced manner, she is as near as she can get to revealing what she perceives as her great misfortune, and the thing that has denied her happiness. It is not a “close” or warm moment, but it is revelatory and it adds needed dimension to Hester’s being.
This type of effort is expanded on later, and in much the same way. Hester reveals something of herself again to her son, but only by way of suggestion: “My family has been a gambling family, and you won’t know till you grow up how much damage it has done” (108). This indicates that she has spent a great deal of thought as to what is wrong with her, and that she has assigned blame. She is a victim, unable to be wholly human because of a legacy of greed and wastefulness. Even as she takes this view, however, there is still this limited reaching out to her son. She cannot be close; it is in fact as though she is speaking to him across a great distance, or as to someone not well known. Nonetheless, she has a message to give him and it is a warning. It may also be seen as something of an apology, because in the admission Hester is essentially letting Paul know that she is fully aware of the problems within herself and within their family.
It is interesting, then, that Paul’s gift of the money does not please her, and it is reasonable to speculate that Hester’s hard reaction to it indicates a deeper understanding of who and what she is. More exactly, she knows too profoundly how money is not the real issue; it is the endless needing of more, which she feels she has been raised to desire above all else. A thousand pounds, then, is not a gift but further evidence of an ugly reality. Her character is then realized, in that she is cursed with the knowledge of her severe limitations, even as she is powerless to change who she is.
- Lawrence, D. H. “The Rocking Horse Winner.” Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama by Robert DiYanni