Paul, a little boy, hears from his mother that they are an unlucky family. In his house, he permanently hears the echo of the need for more money. He decides that he won’t be unlucky and asks his rocking-horse about the winners in horse races, which he learns about from the gardener – a secret he shares with his uncle. Paul gathers a large amount of money for his mother, but it doesn’t seem to be enough, and getting more becomes an obsession that leads him to a brain fever that eventually kills him. His mother is left with 80,000 pounds and no son. (Source taken from Penguin Readers)
Now take a few minutes to think about the ideas below.
- The expression “to keep up with the Joneses” means trying to own as much as the people around you in order to demonstrate your social superiority. Do you think the expression suits the story well? In what sense do you think Paul’s mother tries to keep up with the Joneses? Is it just that or does her behaviour also have to do with a feeling of personal failure?
- “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” – This expression is similar to our saying “Mas vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando”. Just so you know, the English expression has its origin in medieval falconry (= cetrería), when it was much more valuable to have a bird in the hand (the falcon used for hunting) than the possible preys that could be awaiting in the bush. Maybe even more interesting is the fact that the original expression was almost a literal version of the one we use today in Spanish (a bird in the hand is worth ten flying at large). The latter is not used today though.
- “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is a story that deals with obsession with riches (=wealth). Paul’s mother believes her husband is unlucky because he doesn’t earn enough money, and that she is also unlucky for having married him. Paul believes he is unlucky because his mother has told him so. What motivates the characters throughout the story is, thus, money. However, Paul’s pursuit of money is not selfish (on the contrary to his mother’s). He desires money just because he believes that it is the only way of making her mother happy and of stopping the voices from screaming that “there must be more money”. When Paul wins a large amount of money, he discovers there is no way of dying down the desire for money and basically goes crazy in his attempt to win even more, what leads to a fever and, ultimately, to his death. Do you relate to any of the characters in the story? What would you do if you were in Paul’s shoes and had the chance of helping someone getting money they don’t need but which they think they do need?
- In connection with the previous idea, you should think about how money destroys love (Paul’s mother feels her children have been forced on her and she doesn’t love them much because she feels money is more important), then childhood (instead of just playing like any other boy, Paul goes to horse races and gambles, betting money on horses as if he were an adult), and finally life itself (Paul dies in the end as a consequence of desiring more money).
- Paul is a strange and unusual boy. By riding a toy horse, his rocking-horse, he can guess which horse is going to win the next race. Thanks to this uncanny power he has, Paul gets to believe he is not as unlucky as his mother tries to convince him he is. However, by riding the toy horse, Paul also walks steadily to his death. Doesn’t it sound ironic and sort of sad that what seems to be Paul’s lucky charm is, in the end, the cause of his fate?
All right… I think that’s all for today. I didn’t want to write that much but I guess I got all excited and lost track of how lengthy this was becoming. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the reading or, at least, that you learnt something new.
Take care and see you tomorrow!