Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this story, Dylan Thomas contrasts the Christian religion of Wales with the region’s pagan past. Mr. Davies represents the dying force of Christianity, which is overwhelmed by the powerful force of ancient pagan religion, embodied in Mr. and Mrs. Owen. Mr. Owen is associated with the fertility of the land: “the worm in the earth . . . the copulation in the tree . . . the living grease in the soil.” Mrs. Owen, with her tea leaves and crystal ball, represents the ancient belief in the occult. Once out of the village, Mr. Davies is at the mercy of the natural forces that, while supportive of the Owens, frighten and nearly destroy him.

During the meal Mr. Davies becomes aware of the failure of his Christian faith and falls to his knees in fear. The name of the village from which Mr. Davies has strayed—Llareggub—is “bugger all” spelled backward. This is Thomas’s mischievous joke that warns the reader early that the rector and his village colleagues are clearly out of harmony with the natural order of the physical universe surrounding them.

Although this story may be viewed as one that is self-contained, Thomas clearly intended it to be read along with its sequel, “The Holy Six.” In that tale, Mrs. Owen informs six of Mr. Davies’ colleagues of his plight. When they arrive in Jarvis valley, they also find themselves in a hostile world. Thomas reveals them all to be hypocrites, comic fools with evil minds. Meanwhile, Mr. Davies’ newly acquired devotion to the primitive life force, mixed with his conventional Christianity, turns him into a grotesque figure. By the end of the story he claims to be the father of the child in Mrs. Owen’s womb, a notion that is a bizarre mixture of his lust and spirituality.