Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415

“The Peaches” rests on Dylan Thomas’s childhood experiences of spending long holidays on his Aunt Anne Jones’s farm, Fernhill, in Carmarthenshire. It is the opening story in a collection of autobiographical sketches, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), that describes life in South Wales during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. In “The Peaches,” Thomas sensitively illustrates the nuances of personality within his family, focusing on their imperfections, but in a nonjudgmental way.

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Three themes emerge from this sketch: the idyllic world of childhood, how powerlessness in the face of adults tempers that idyll, and how adults play false roles. Dylan, the narrator, appears on the surface to be detached from, and even oblivious to, the events that occur around him. He spends his days looking at farm animals and playing cowboys and Indians with his friend Jack Williams. Children are not unobservant or insensitive to their surroundings, however, and Dylan is aware of the undercurrents in the relationships between Uncle Jim and Aunt Annie and between Aunt Annie and Mrs. Williams.

Children, however, cannot control their unequal relationships with adults. The story opens with Dylan forced to wait in a dark alley, prey to the childhood terrors of clawed hands and demons. More terrible, perhaps, are Jack’s fears. At first, his visit goes well, but in the evening he is scared by Gwilym’s bullying in the chapel. Worse comes when he overhears a drunken Uncle Jim say mean things about his mother and threaten to beat him. Jack is threatened by this hostile and unpredictable environment, and he escapes from it by calling his mother. Dylan, however, is not threatened because he feels at home with his relatives, despite their imperfections.

The adults in the story play false roles and don masks to present themselves to the world and to one another. Gwilym plays at being a minister, preaching sermons, taking up collections, and interrogating his congregation, but the nature of his belief is ambiguous. The erotic feelings of a normal twenty-year-old have been diverted and suppressed. Hence his religion is heavily laden with cruelty, shown in his treatment of Dylan and Jack, and sexuality—his hymns are as much songs to girls as to God, and his mysterious behavior in the lavatory hints at masturbation. Aunt Annie plays the obsequious, fawning underling, curtsying to Mrs. Williams. Mrs. Williams is a caricature of the grande dame, displaying the airs of superiority but neglecting the graciousness of the true lady.

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