The Rocking-Horse Winner
In his short story, “The Rocking-Horse Winner” published in 1926, D.H. Lawrence describes a young Englishwoman who “has no luck”. Though she and her husband have expensive tastes, neither of them separately or together are able to stay out of the debt necessary to maintain their lifestyle. They are preoccupied by a sense of failure and as a result the house is permeated by an inaudible but palpable anxiety about the lack of enough money.
“And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll's house, a voice would start whispering: "There must be more money! There must be more money!" And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other's eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. "There must be more money! There must be more money!"
By rocking madly on his horse , the young son Paul “hears” the names of the winners of a series of horse races and with his uncle placing bets he manages to provide money for his parents. But the voices in the house only increase as their lifestyle rises to outstrip their newfound wealth. In a final effort to discern the winner of the biggest race of the season, Paul literally rocks himself to a fever. But before he collapses he delivers the name – Malabar. The payoff is enormous but Paul never recovers. It cost him his life to quiet the voices in his head.
I read the story as a young teacher but then as a parent I began to think about the voices in our house. What were our own children hearing? It may not have been “more money” but maybe it was “more happiness” or “more respect” or “more importance” or more, more, more of something. Every house has these voices and the sooner we find and deal with them the healthier our children will be. Having worked with families now for many years, I know almost every household is haunted by some unspoken phrase that left unheeded will affect the children for their whole lives. The results may not be as drastic but they carry them forever.
What are the voices in your house?