A Compare and Contrast Essay on the Short Story “The Rocking Horse Winner” By D H Lawrence and “The Destructors” by Graham Greene.
Introduction and Short Summary of Stories
The Rocking Horse Winner is a short story by DH Lawrence which was first published in Harper’s Bazaar in July 1926. It then appeared in the first volume of collected short stories by the author (Kearney 1998). On the other hand, The Destructors by Graham Greene was first published in 1954 as a two part series in the Picture Post on July 24 and 31. Later on, it appeared in Twenty One Stories, in a collection of short stories by the author (Donaghy1983). The Rocking Horse Winner tells of Young Master Paul and his uncanny ability to know beforehand the winners of horse racing, and with the help of Basset, a household help, has been accumulating winnings, in his bid to help his mother and their family’s financial woes, and to quiet down the maddening whispers in their house saying “more money, more money, more money” (Lawrence 1926). On the other hand, The Destructors tells the story of a group of children calling themselves the Wormsley Common Gang. The main character is the leader of the gang named Blackie, and his apparent loss of leadership, when one day, a new member named Trevor, or simply known as T came up with a plan to destroy the house of Mr. Thomas. The house of Old Misery, as he is called by the gang, is a survivor of The Blitz bombing. In a vote, Blackie’s plan to hitch free rides was over ruled by Trevor’s plan to enter and destroy the house of Old Misery. More than just leadership issues, the plan was to give the gang more notoriety. (Greene 1954).
ANALYSIS: Commonalities in Narrative, Style and Characterization.
There is commonality in the stories with the narrative structure. Both stories use the usual straight story telling technique. There is also not much foreshadowing or back stories or flashbacks utilized in telling the story, except for a few ‘historical’ commentary on the house of ‘Old Misery. The stories follow the structure expository-conflict-climax-resolution in a straightforward manner.. The Rocking Horse Winner begins with an expository of the general backdrop of the story, and then pans and zooms in on Paul. Same goes with The Destructors, building up from the general description of the gang to zero-in on Blackie. This is immediately followed by the conflict, which, in the case of The Rocking Horse Winner, is the family’s financial woes, and the leadership challenge for Blackie in The Destructors. Although these are bigger conflicts, they are then quickly followed by lesser conflicts, such as the mothers desire to have more money, after receiving her ‘birthday gift’ and Paul’s intense desire to know the winner in the next horse race. Similarly, the bigger conflict in The Destructors is compounded with the matter of the actual destruction, and the assignments within the group, as well as the dwindling attendance of the gang members, as well as the climactic moment of Mr. Thomas’ coming home early. The conflict/s is/are then resolve by one big revealing moment, which is the naming of ‘Malabar’ as the next winner, and the successful carrying out of the plan by the Wormsley Common Gang. The stories are then concluded by the death of Paul, and the total destruction of Old Misery’s house.
The most apparent commonality between the two stories lies in their protagonists or main characters. In The Rocking Horse Winner, it is the young boy, Master Paul who is the main character of the story. In The Destructor, the main character is the group leader Blackie. Both of them are young boys, with certain issues and problems that needed to be resolved and are both instrumental to the story’s unfolding. Both main characters are imbued with strong traits and characteristics, each geared towards the accomplishment of each one’s goals: the discovery of the race winners and eventually helping out his mother for Paul in The Rocking Horse Winner, and regaining leadership and successful carrying out of the plan by Blackie and Trevor in The Destructors. The characters make for gripping and entertaining stories that propel the narratives further while maintaining the readers grasp and interest to see the story through its conclusion.
ANALYSIS: Contrasts in Themes, Plot and Purpose
The stories differ in theme. While there is a common ‘group’ dynamics in both stories, as The Rocking Horse Winner is set and discusses about familial dynamics, it could be argued that the ‘gang’ in The Destructors can also be seen as a ‘pseudo-familial’ dynamics. However, in the text, we can see that the kids have a ‘family’ outside the gang
as some of them needed to do familial duties as going to church, and going home for mealtimes. Therefore, it can be safely said that while The Rocking Horse Winner shows family and dysfunction within this structure, The Destructors on the other hand shows us a different set-up; that of a clique or a gang. There is also a different approach in the story as to treatment of other characters, especially towards it’s view on ‘grown up’ characters. In The Rocking Horse Winner, with exception to the mother and father, the grown ups Basset and Uncle Oscar were treated as sympathetic to the goals of the child character, and can be considered as ‘helpful’ to Paul. In The Destructors, however, most of the grown up characters are considered as those whose convictions run contrary to the children’s own. At best, they are apathetic or needs to be ‘convinced’ with the validity of the gangs existence; as an example – that of the older gangs and legit groups with bigger and more notorious claims to fame. While The Rocking Horse Winner zoomed in on familial and household troubles with finances and familial roles, The Destructor tackled and juxtaposed the characters into a bigger space in the socio-economic spectrum in society. The effects of the events in The Rocking Horse Winner had direct impact on the family in question, while the kids in The Destructors had far more reaching impacts in the community and society as a whole.
Finally, there is a difference in purpose for both stories, at the very least, it can be said that the effect of The Rocking Horse Winner is to show the dangers of Vanity, Greed for Money and Materialism, as well as the effects of absent parents, The Destructors in turn shows the effects of a lawlessness in the youth and the apparent neglect of people to
things that should have been considered as living legacies and testaments, as is the house of Old Misery, as a legacy that stood the test of time, and war.
Both stories are interesting, arresting and very entertaining. They are examples of sterling literary performances, and great narratives. A deeper study and reading of both stories which would include a study on the time lines and other historical aspects surrounding the stories would greatly enrich the reader’s appreciation of the stories. They are excellent literary gems and are both highly recommendable reads.
Trilling, Diana , ed. The Portable D.H. Lawrence. New York:
The Viking Press, 1959.
Rabin, Eric S, ed. Stories: An Anthology and an Introduction. New York:
Harper Collins College Publishers, 1995.
Donaghy, Henry J. Graham Greene, an introduction to his writings.
Kearney, Martin F. Major short stories of D.H. Lawrence .
Taylor & Francis, 1998.