Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In both his poetry and his fiction, Dylan Thomas celebrated the animal joy and vitality that human beings embody when they are in harmony with the cosmic cycle of life and death. As a young boy, Thomas took great joy in going to the local fairs. The spectacle of the crowds, lights, music, and exotic people (such as the Fat Woman) presented life in a rich, compressed form that dazzled the boy from Swansea. In his essay “Holiday Memory” (1946), he recorded the excitement that he and his friends had shared during a visit to the fair on a bank holiday.

In “After the Fair,’ Thomas focuses on the intense loneliness experienced by a young woman when the bright wonders of the fair are closed down. Annie’s life is one of fear and alienation from the community. Hungry and homeless, she leaves her baby in the Astrologer’s tent, presumably hoping that someone will find it and be able to care for it. Thomas, who later emphasized the symbolic importance of the constellations in his poem “Altarwise by Owl-Light” (1936), suggests the providential nature of the stars in this story. When the Fat Man fetches the baby and announces, “See what the stars have done,” he is simply being considerate of Annie’s feelings by jokingly attributing the baby to the stars rather than to its actual mother. Thomas, however, implies that the stars do, indeed, help to shape the destiny of this lonely woman and her abandoned child.

Annie, her baby, and the Fat Man bring the sleeping fair to life when they start up and ride the merry-go-round. The wooden horses come alive as they are ridden by this bizarre “family.” The story ends with the celebration of life as the baby claps its hands and Annie and the Fat Man become one through the ever-increasing music, speed, and exhilaration of the ride. The circular motion of the merry-go-round suggests the great cycle of life itself. The ecstacy of Annie, the child, and the Fat Man reflects the pulsing energy of primitive life force that drives all creatures under the stars.