Themes

 

“Me, Polly Garter, under the washing line, giving the breast in the garden to my bonny new baby. Nothing grows in our garden, only washing. And babies. And where’s their fathers live, my love? Over the hills and far away.”

 

AnneBeachPortrait

 

Villages

 

There are many different characters and settings that are included in Under Milk Wood that bring the community together, there are scenes set in homes, shops, the pub and the school.

The First Voice (in the first chapter) sets the scene of a community sleeping together on ‘a spring moonlessnight’ in a ‘small town’ Llareggub. It says that everyone ‘the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher…’ are sleeping, showing the variety of people that make up the community

We are introduced into the livesof the Postman (Willy Nilly), the schoolmasters (Mr and Mrs Pugh) etc.

When the town awakes, the listener/audience can see the ways in which the townspeople lives are crossed and how they interact with each other

Captain Cat knows the names of every child in the village just by listening to their voices, the children also know his name ‘look Captain Cat is crying all over his nose’ again reinforcing the idea that this community

The postman going round to everyone’s houses and recounting the gossip from the other characters posts shows the closeness of the people in the town, they know the ins and outs of everyone’s lives.

 

Dreams

 

First voice begins, night-time in Llareggub. The babies, boys, girls, women and men are dreaming. All is quiet. Captain Cat is dreaming of his past, the drowned are speaking to him. The sailors joke and laugh to him, all dead together, with Rosie Probert, whom many shared.

Myfanwy Price, the dressmaker, is dreaming of Mog Edwards, the draper.

Jack Black dreams joyfully of catching the ‘naughty couples’.

Evans Death, the undertaker dreams of a childhood day, stealing currants from his mother.

Mister Waldo dreams of his mother and his wife.

Gossamer Beynon dreams of her ‘small rough ready man’.

Butcher Beynon’s teasing extends into his wife’s dreams, and he is prosecuting for selling unsavoury and illegal varieties of meat. The cries of the dreamers echo around each other.

The Reverend Eli Jenkins dreams of Eisteddfodau poetry.

Mr Pugh dreams he is pretending to sleep, to be able to murder his wife.

Mrs Organ Morgan takes refuge in the silence of her dreams.

Mary Ann Sailors dreams of Eden.

Dai Bread dreams of harems, Polly Garter of babies, Nogood Boyo of nothing, and Lord Cut-Glass of clocks.

Another theme worthy of note in Under Milk Wood is that of dreams in contrast with reality, which Thomas utilises to make fun of the materialistic aspects of love. Thomas compels the reader to follow the dreams of the various characters throughout the radio play from the beginning.

Myfanwy Price’s rather humorous, erotic dreams are satirised by Thomas as she confesses how she is a “draper mad with love” to Mog Edwards. In evocative imagery, Mog Edwards is seen as a businessman who is more concerned with his “calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino” of his “emporium on the hill”.

Thomas’ satirisation of the materialism associated with love in Myfanwy Price’s dream accentuates the importance of dreams as a major theme in Under Milk Wood.

 

Death

 

The listener, freshly introduced to Captain Cat’s dreams, gets to see how the dead perceive the life they once had. The dream operates as the go-between for these realms, as the dead only speak and have voices in dreams.
The questions the dead ask all seek answers to the realm which they no longer inhabit, so they go through Captain Cat’s dream. In other words, the desires of the dead and Captain Cat’s subconscious are mediated by the dream.

Interestingly, death permeates the world of the living as well as the dead. The fact that in this particular instance Polly Garter is singing about her dead lover indicates that both Polly Garter’s subconscious and the dead lover are getting mediated by her voice.

 

Time

 

Time is moving on through the play as the day in one life in Milk Wood, however the dreams and inner thoughts of the characters flit from past to present

(Evans the death dreaming about ‘upon waking fiftyyears ago’ and Captain Cat flitting from the past with his ‘dead dears’ and the present)

Mr Waldo’s dream also keeps shuffling between the past (Mr Waldo as a young boy) and the present and the past (as a married man) and the present as ‘widower Waldo

Scene 1 (the dreams) then closes with Lord Cut Glass imitating a clock ‘tick tock tick tock‘ which ends the scene and emphasises the theme of time.

Captain Cat also lives between the past and the present fully living as if both were his reality – this defeating time in some ways Like a Cat he sees in the dark. Through the voyages of his tears he sails to see the dead

People going to work, the shops opening

Students going to school

‘Babies and old men are cleaned and put into their prams’ This quote gives the idea of the circle of life and that nothing changes – the time follows the same pattern of ‘everyday life as if it isout of time

‘the hands of the clocks stayed still at half past eleven for fifty years’ This is a pub that doesn’t care about the laws when it can open and close and not/can sell alcohol,

always open the clock is stuck on opening hours which also gives the feel that in the village time isn’t really a worry –time is always stuck – They have always done the same thing – time is always on repeat as they are not touched by the outside

world – timelessness

Lord cut-glass is seen as having an ostensible obsession with time. Thomas portrays the inevitable march of time as Lord Cut Glass is seen as living in a house and a life at siegeyet his eccentric character, as seen in Thomas’ use of unpredictable sentence patterning reinforced with exclamatory sentences in “mindthere-Rover! emphasises the ironic nature of Glass’ behaviour as he is driven by time in a place where there is effectively ‘no time’.

The constant progression of time as a major theme in Under Milk Wood is also apparent as it is said to death to all creatures born to die.

This rather cynical view proposed by the Reverend Eli Jenkins highlights the ever-present presence of God’s ‘kind’ judgement as Jenkins prays t0 let us see another day!

 

Humour

 

Most of the humour in Under Milk Wood builds on the violation of taboos, sexual, ethical and other social acceptable behaviour. The Narrator tells the audience of the quirks and bizarreness of the inhabitants of Under Milk Wood, he describes the peculiar situations and occupations and he comments on situations with a hint of irony. His descriptions are humorous through odd word choice, exaggerated comparisons and unexpected word order. Most of this humour is based on violation of patterns and ridiculing other people’s behaviour.

Mr Waldo has strange occupations and violates what we consider normal thereby causing incongruity and laughter because we don’t expect a rabbitcatcher, barber, herbalist and cat-doctor in one person.

Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard provokes laughter with her obsessive cleaning. Additionally, the way the Narrator exaggerates her actions creates humour.

Actions that fail cause laughter; they can also cause sympathy, e.g. Bessie longing for a kiss but never receiving it.

Mrs Willy Nilly steams open Mog Edwards’ letter to Miss Price flouting the convention  of privacy.

 

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