Under Milk Wood

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443

The narrator takes the listeners on a tour of the dreams, memories, songs, gossip, arguments, and work routines of the villagers during one complete day in spring. The play has no main action, but a series of episodes in three parts: night and dreams, waking and morning, afternoon and dusk.

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The narrator takes the listeners on a tour of the dreams, memories, songs, gossip, arguments, and work routines of the villagers during one complete day in spring. The play has no main action, but a series of episodes in three parts: night and dreams, waking and morning, afternoon and dusk.

The narrator introduces and comments on each character and episode. Each character, such as the postman, preacher, butcher, prostitute, organist, various drinkers, housewives, children, and deceased, represents an aspect of the culture of the village: its parochialism, sentimentalism, naivete, pettiness, and passion. From this array of characters, two emerge as thematically significant: Captain Cat, the retired, blind sea captain, whose dreams are of life’s experiences, of love and lust; and the Reverend Eli Jenkins, who waxes poetic as he asks God’s mercy on this place he loves. Polly Garter, whose sex life is the occasion of much of the village gossip, has one of the moments of real pathos in her lament for her lost true love.

The play’s chief merits are its musical language, its rhetorical variety, and its Dickensian caricature. Its humors are bawdy, black, impassioned, lyrical, hilarious, and nostalgic. On the other hand, it lacks emotional depth, and substitutes playfulness for development of situation and character.

Bibliography:

Holbrook, David. “ ‘A Place of Love’: Under Milk Wood.” In Dylan Thomas: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by C. B. Cox. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Views the play as the romanticized “toy town” of Thomas’ childhood. Considers the play trivial when it is contrasted with James Joyce’s work.

Korg, Jacob. Dylan Thomas. New York: Twayne, 1965. Chapter 8 is devoted to Thomas’ prose, including Under Milk Wood. Sees the work as lacking the substance of Thomas’ poetry, but praises the play’s comic vitality, its humor, and its theme of “the sacredness of human attachments.”

Moynihan, William T. The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966. Notes Under Milk Wood’s humor, its idealized characters, and its theme of the importance of asserting beauty in an imperfect world.

Rea, J. “Topographical Guide to Under Milk Wood.” College English 25, no. 7 (April, 1964): 535-542. Describes a map of Milk Wood created to help students visualize the play’s action, comments on the source of some place names, and includes a map of the village.

Williams, Raymond. “Dylan Thomas’s Play for Voices.” In Dylan Thomas: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by C. B. Cox. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Summarizes the play’s acting history and examines Thomas’ use of narrative, dialogue, and song. Compares the play to the Circe episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).

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Critical Evaluation