Under Milk Wood

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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.


Holbrook, David. “ ‘A Place of Love’: Under Milk Wood.” In Dylan...

(The entire section is 443 words.)