The Rocking-Horse Winner

He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to ‘luck’. Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse, charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him uneasily. Wildly the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him.

When he had ridden to the end of his mad little journey, he climbed down and stood in front of his rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright.

“Now!” he would silently command the snorting steed. “Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!”

–from “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

Luck is one of those words that make me uncomfortable when used flippantly. Lots of people use it; I even catch myself saying “Good luck” or “It’s lucky.” I don’t believe there is luck. This story, however, is about a boy who wants to find luck so he can help his mother who always needs more money. He finds luck, too, sometimes. While wildly riding a rocking-horse which he has outgrown, the name of the race-horse that will win the next derby comes to his mind. The boy, his uncle, and a race-loving gardener become partners and make money on the boy’s lucky predictions. The story ends ironically with a big win and a brain fever that ends in the boy’s death. The reader is left wondering if the boy is lucky after all. And the mother, who has gained the money she wants, no longer has her son. Is she lucky?

I like this story because it confronts the concept of luck and shows that what appears to be luck is really only one part of the story. D.H. Lawrence fleshes out the other parts of the story with grim exactness so that luck might just be the flash of something bright in a person’s eye.

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