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Student Essay on "The Rocking-Horse Winner"  

2013-05-30 20:26:45|  分类: 参考答案 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Student Essay

The Condemned Mother: A Marxist Feminist Analysis of Female Position in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”

In D. H. Lawrence’s short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” the tragic death of the young protagonist, Paul, is largely blamed on the sheer materialism of his mother, Hester. In the hope of winning his mother’s love by satisfying her greed for money, little Paul exhausts his supernatural ability of prophecy in ceaseless horse-race gambling, and eventually dies of burning out. In his criticism of the story, Roy Lamson makes such a comment on Paul’s death scene: “The condemnation of the mother could hardly be more violent” (56). To a large degree, the mother is accused because she has failed to fulfill her role as the domestic angel. As a woman, she is supposed to focus on her family instead of going after money, the symbol of power and status in a capitalist society. In this sense, the story illustrates the inferior position of woman under the dual oppression of patriarchy and capitalism.

Marxist feminists, such as Linda Gordon, hold that male supremacy has both affected and been reinforced by the labor division in the capitalist society (338). In the pre-capitalist family-economy, women and men worked together as a single productive unit. But with the development of capitalism, production was transferred from the home to factories, where men formed the main body of wage-laborers, working separately from women. Women were increasingly excluded from productive areas in which they had once participated; the consequent loss of sources of income made them more economically dependent upon men (Zaretsky 29).

In “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” although the mother somehow has “a small income,” it is the father who goes “into town to some office” (790). That mysterious “town” will appear several more times in the story; it symbolizes the sphere of social production, which is largely shut against the female. The mother is supposed to be economically dependent on the father, who is both the breadwinner and the head of the family. However, since the father is incompetent in fulfilling his role, the mother has to rely on her son and her brother to provide for her. Sharing the responsibility of bread-winning, Paul and Uncle Oscar form a new league of “son” and “father” (Uncle Oscar repetitively addresses Paul as “son,” implying their symbolic filiation). The mother is always excluded when the two male members of the family discuss horse-racing games, decide on the bets, and arrange the profits:

“Oh!” - and the boy writhed in an odd way - “I don’t want her to know, uncle.”

“All right, son! We’ll manage it without her knowing.” (797)

However, the mother does not succumb without putting up a fight. She manages to find a job in the public sphere of the “town”: “His mother went into town nearly every day. She had discovered that she had an odd knack of sketching furs and dress materials, so she worked secretly in the studio of a friend who was the chief ‘artist’ for the leading drapers. She drew the figures of ladies in furs and ladies in silk and sequins for the newspaper advertisements” (799). It almost seems that she has broken the barrier and joined the mode of social production. However, because of her gender, her labor is marginalized in the capitalist system, and she suffers more exploitation than a man: “This young woman artist earned several thousand pounds a year, but Paul’s mother only made several hundreds, and she was again dissatisfied. She so wanted to be first in something, and she did not succeed, even in making sketches for drapery advertisements” (799).

As a woman, she remains primarily a wife and a mother even as she works outside home. Her contribution to the family income is regarded by others, and probably even by herself, as merely supplemental and temporary, even when it is highly needed by her family for keeping up “the style.” She is not supposed to have a career. Therefore, her choice of work is very limited. She has to work “in the studio of a friend”; besides the concern of safety, there is probably also the concern of decency, for it is “inappropriate” for a “lady” to work in public places. Also, she still has to attend her household chores, which certainly affects her work performance. In addition, as a woman she has been taught for her whole life to be docile and submissive, so when she is exploited, she does not even think of organizing with other employees to fight with the employer for their rights. As Marilyn P. Goldberg has pointed out, such attitudes “which women have learned about themselves and their work make them a convenient, cheap marginal labor force for capitalism”(342). Thus, even though women do participate in social production, their contribution is generally ignored by the mainstream society.

The only “proper” place left for a woman is in the home. As men were authorized by the creation of wage-labor as the dominant laborers in social production, women were gradually confined to the private sphere of production, i.e., domestic labor. They were required to devote themselves to serving their husband, rearing children, and maintaining their home. Juliet Mitchell has pointed out that “it is rather women’s role in reproduction which has become, in capitalist society at least, the spiritual ‘complement’ of men’s role in production” (328).

In “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” the father is far from close with his children; he does not even understand what his son is talking about when the latter is dying. In contrast, the mother feels obliged to love her children, although deep inside she believes that she does not love them: “She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. … And hurriedly she felt she must cover up some fault in herself. Yet what it was that she must cover up she never knew” (790). The mother has sensed the responsibility of a woman “thrust upon her,” and that she would be condemned if she does not fulfill it. Therefore, she has to love her family, at least in appearance. She works to answer her son’s questions, to inquire after his strange behavior, to watch for his declining health, and finally to wait on his death bed—she has finally gained herself the reputation of a good mother, although she did not believe she was one before. Nevertheless, she is always “unsatisfied.” Her labor within the house is not recognized by society; thus her value in the public sphere is denied. She has not an identity of her own; even her name, Hester, is not revealed until the very end of the story, after her son has died. Throughout most of the story, this woman is referred to only as “the mother,” which keeps her in the shadow of her son.

Unconsciously, Hester struggles to resist the oppression of capitalist patriarchy. Although she believes that she does not love her children, she feels “all her tormented motherhood flooding upon her” when she sees her son collapse (803); it suggests that she might be unconsciously suppressing her maternal feelings due to a resistance to the fixed role of woman. Also, her enormous desire for money represents her demand of a higher status in the capitalist society where money determines value. She has made several attempts to make money on her own. Furthermore, when she receives the money her son has bestowed her anonymously, she immediately decides to control all of it by herself, without the interference of her husband and others; it shows a strong tendency of independence. But, despite all her efforts, she has failed to free herself from male dominance. The death of her son cannot release her from the confinement of family; nor can the eighty thousand pounds he left her buy her more status in society, because the social restrictions on woman make it impossible for her to participate in public economy by herself, no matter how much money she has. After all, it is her brother who explains her own situation to her after her son has died; it is also through him that her name is revealed. She is still under the control of the male.

Indeed, the liberation of women takes generations of struggle; it is, in Juliet Mitchell’s words, the longest revolution, and it is still going on.

Works Cited

 Edwards, Richard, Michael Reich, and Thomas E. Weisskopf, eds. The Capitalist System: A Radical Analysis of American Society. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1972.

Goldberg, Marilyn Power. “The Economic Exploitation of Women.” Edwards, Reich, and Weisskopf 342-348.

Gordon, Linda. “Families and the Oppression of Women.” Edwards, Reich, and Weisskopf

337-41.

Lamson, Roy. “Critical Analysis of ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’”. From Fiction to Film: D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-horse Winner.” Ed. Gerald R. Barrett, Thomas L. Erskine. Dickenson, 1974.

Lawrence, D. H. “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence. New York: Heinemann, 1961. 790-804

Mitchell, Juliet. “The Situation of Women.” Edwards, Reich, and Weisskopf 326-37.

Zaretsky, Eli. Capitalism, the Family & Personal Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

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