Themes and Meanings
Dylan Thomas developed “A Story” as a presentation for Welsh television during the last year of his life. Like his well-known poem “Fern Hill,” it recalls a joyous time in his youth from the perspective of his mature years. By re-creating the sensory excitement, the almost delicious loneliness, and the feeling of a cosmos of infinite possibilities waiting to be explored, Thomas reaches back to a time in his life prior to the onset of the disappointments that plagued his adult years. Whereas “Fern Hill” depends on a vision of the natural world as a source of wonder and delight, “A Story” is closer to Under Milk Wood (1954), his drama about the singular characters of the small Welsh town of Laugharne, which also presents a view of the adult world from a relatively innocent observer who is astonished and highly amused by the antics and odd speech of grownups. There are a number of images of an inspiring landscape, but most of the details are designed to convey the moods of the characters and the atmosphere of the shop, bus, and pubs where the action occurs.
The narrator’s introduction to the mysterious world of men is presented as a readjustment of self-perception. At first, the boy’s uncle is described in terms of his daunting size and physical presence, while his aunt is depicted as a quaint mouse-figure. There is a distinct separation between the boy and his family because they are rendered in surreal terms. The shop is less a place of commerce than a magical child’s realm, with hiding places, strange creatures, and no responsibilities. The uncle’s decision to include the boy on the outing is a recognition that he is on the edge of adolescence, and his gradual involvement in the company of men is presented as a part of a ritual that is rooted in ancient customs and folk traditions.
The men know their roles, but have room for verbal improvisation; the sentimentality that tends to weaken Under Milk Wood is replaced by an acerbic wit and an eye for human foibles. The tremendous enthusiasm for drink and song that marks the narrative, however, keeps the story within the child’s inclination for delight. The men themselves are liberated by everything so that they may momentarily frolic again as the boys they once were. As in a child’s dream, time itself seems to stop as food, drink, wit, and friendship transform the scene to “the end of the world in the west of Wales”—a charmed landscape akin to the countryside of “Fern Hill” and “Poem in October” (1946) to which Thomas always longed to return.