Peace and silence

Classified in English

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The story begins with a description of Hester, who has trouble loving her three children. Hester she feels unlucky because her family is running out of money, but she cares a great deal about appearing to be wealthy. The house seems to constantly whisper, “There must be more money!” and Paul (Hester’s young son) in particular becomes concerned about the family’s financial situation. When he asks his mother why they don’t have enough money, she explains to him they they are unlucky, and that luck is the reason people are rich. Paul claims that he is lucky, but his mother doesn’t believe him, so he becomes determined to prove his luck to her.

Paul obsessively and furiously starts riding his rocking-horse because he believes it can take him to luck—a habit he keeps secret from everyone else. He also talks with Bassett, the family’s gardener, about horse racing and places bets on the races whenever he “knows” who will win. Paul’s Uncle Oscar finds out about Paul’s betting and begins betting based on Paul’s recommendations, which are always correct. Paul makes an extraordinarily large amount of money, but he also becomes increasingly anxious and intense.

Uncle Oscar helps Paul give some money to his mother anonymously, but the money only makes the whispering in the house worse. Instead of using it to pay off debts, Hester buys new furniture and invests in sending Paul to an elite school. Paul is more determined than ever to make the whispering stop, and he refuses to stop riding his rocking-horse, even when his mother suggests that he is too old for the toy. The Derby (a big horse race) is coming up, and Paul is obsessed with picking the winner.

One night, while at a party, Hester is overwhelmed with anxiety about Paul. She calls the nurse to see how he’s doing, but when the nurse offers to check on him in his room, Hester decides not to bother him until she gets home. When she finally arrives at his room, she hears a familiar yet violent noise coming from behind the door. Paul is riding his rocking-horse so hard that he and the horse are lit up in a strange light. He announces in a deep voice, “It’s Malabar” and then collapses to the floor.

Days later, Paul is very ill. Bassett tells Paul that Malabar (a horse’s name) won the Derby, and Paul now has eighty thousand pounds. Paul is very excited to be able to prove to his mother that he is, in fact, lucky. But that night, Paul dies. Uncle Oscar suggests that Hester is better off having eighty thousand pounds instead of a strange son—but that Paul is also better off dead than living in a state where “he rides his rocking-horse to find the winner.”


The climactic scene of the story, along with the immediate lead-up to it and what follows, is the most meaningful section of the story in which all the important elements - luck, love, family, madness - come together and often flip in orientation. To begin with, we find in Paul's mother's newfound and strangely overwhelming concern for her son a complete reversal of her previous stoniness and lack of concern for him. In tandem with a change in the attitude of her concern is a change in the way she perceives her son with care. Whereas earlier she does not say anything about Paul's gambling, towards the end of the story she explicitly warns him against it and then even rushes back from a party because of her sense that he is in danger. Here, she negotiates between her societal instinct and emotional instinct. For example, when she tells the nurse not to check on Paul because "she did not want her son's privacy intruded upon" (as would be proper etiquette), but then ends up going up to see for herself because she feels too anxious for him.

This surge of raw love within her is paralleled by Paul's surge of luck for what will become his biggest win; the two movements dovetail in a practically orgasmic moment when Paul yells the name of the winning horse - and significantly, stares his blazing blue eyes at his mother - and his mother catches him with "all her tormented motherhood flooding upon her." The barely concealed sexual forces end up expending themselves entirely, having reached their absolute end, so that Paul is left dead and his mother "heart-frozen."

He also becomes a substitute for his father; since Paul's mother told Paul that she is unlucky by connection to her husband's unluckiness, Paul hopes that by becoming lucky, he will take his father's place and make his mother happy. It is telling that we do not even hear of the father at the end and even more telling that the final voice is not that of "Hester" (as we know Paul's mother), Paul himself, Bassett, or the narrator, but Uncle Oscar, the most experienced gambler, who with a cruel glibness states the final balance for his sister: "you're eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad." In the end, the world of raw emotions and authentic life has collapsed upon itself just as it was bursting through the silence of everyday life, leaving nothing but the nonchalantly cynical voice of the gambler who will always go for more (rather than seeking a final "winner") without anxiety, without care, and certainly without love.

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