The Horse Dealer's Daughter | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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The Horse Dealer's Daughter | Symbols



Horses are symbolic of the Pervin siblings and their inability to control their own lives. In the opening scene of the story, four horses tied head to tail are led by a groom up a lane. The horses plod along slowly, swinging their haunches in a sleepy motion. Though the horses are big and strong, the narrator says their "stupidity" keeps them under the control of the groom.

The four horses represent the four Pervin siblings who sit around a kitchen table vaguely and hopelessly discussing their situation as though in a stupor. The siblings have lost their estate and the horses they train for a living. Like the horses being led by a rope, they have lost their freedom along with their fortune and are being led with a sense of hopelessness into the future. The narrator describes the horses as having a look of stupidity. Mabel Pervin also has a look of "impressive fixity," Malcom laughs "fatuously," and Joe's bearing is "stupid." Joe also shows his teeth when he laughs, which brings to mind the image of a horse, and he gets up and stands in a "horsey fashion." The narrator relates that Joe feels that the horses are almost like his own body to him and is hopeless at their loss. Joe will be marrying the daughter of a neighboring estate owner and working for his new father-in-law, which he feels is the same as being put into a harness. Joe feels as though "he would be a subject animal now."

Horse imagery also describes the middle brother Fred Henry. The narrator says, "If he was an animal, like Joe, he was an animal which controls, not one which is controlled." The narrator continues, however, that Fred Henry is no more a master of the events in his life than the horses are. The livelihood of the Pervin siblings has been to train and dominate horses. The siblings, in turn, are dominated by the collapse in their lives and appear to have lost the freedom and will to take control of their own lives.

The Pond

The pond symbolizes the border between life and death. The descriptions of the pond are steeped in imagery of death. It is in the middle of a field, deep and square like a grave. After tending her mother's grave and headstone, Mabel wades into the deep pond, intending to join her mother in the world of death. Jack Fergusson watches her enter the pond, but he does not see her with ordinary sight but more as if with his mind's eye looking into another world.

Fergusson enters the "dead water" to save Mabel. He cannot swim and is afraid of drowning. He risks death to save Mabel. He feels the "dead cold" of the pond and smells its "dead, clayey water." As he wades further in, Fergusson feels the water "clasped dead cold round his legs." At one point he stumbles and goes under the foul water, struggling madly. He comes up with a gasp and knows he is back "in the world." Fergusson finally finds Mabel. He pulls her out of the watery grave and carries her to the bank where he gets her breathing again. Both Mabel and Fergusson enter the pond where they nearly die, then they leave the pond and come back to life. It's not clear, however, if it will be a happy life.

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