Under Milk Wood Analysis
by Dylan Thomas

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Under Milk Wood Analysis

To analyze any piece of literary writing, it is a good idea to consider the following components: title, voice, mood and tone, setting and place, characters, and themes. Furthermore, it can be useful to consider how the work fits into its historical and social context and the body of work produced by the writer, along with anything else that seems relevant. Let’s briefly look at some of these in relation to Under Milk Wood, a radio play written by Dylan Thomas in the 1950s.

Title: The play had various titles before this was settled on, as it was thought to be more appealing to American audiences. The name of the village which is at the heart of the play—Llareggub—was originally part of the title, and although it might appear to be a Welsh name, it’s actually a play on words. When read backwards, it is phrase from British English meaning "nothing at all."

Setting: The setting for the story is the fictional Welsh seaside village of Llaggerub, as well as peoples' homes, the pub, the shop, and the church. Place is important to the play, and the sea especially is ever-present. The "Milk Wood" of the title, a wooded area in the hills above the village, has different significance and meaning for different characters.

Technique: This play is rich in evocative language, often playful and surreal. You could consider the use of imagery, unusual juxtapositions of words and thoughts, the poetry of the piece, and the way the voices are interwoven to build up a tapestry of thoughts and actions. Think too about how humor and comedy are important to the effect and intentions of the play.

Characters: The characters are the villagers, and through them we learn about typical life in this little village—a place both extraordinary and ordinary. The preacher, the Reverend Eli Jenkins, describes how “We are not wholly bad or good / Who live our lives under Milk Wood." This seems to be one of the intentions of Dylan Thomas: to show all sides of life and what goes on.

Themes: The passing of time is a key theme, emphasized through numerous references and echoed in the chronological structure of the play, in which we begin during the night, see a full day, and start the next night at the end. Community and relationships can be considered another important theme, as the people and place interact and connect to show how place emphasizes character and vice versa. Religion and nature are also important themes.

Wider context: How does this piece relate to other work by the same author? You could think about what the writer might be hoping to achieve with this play. Is there a deeper message? Is it to make us laugh and appreciate small village life and people? Is it to show the secret and dreams and hidden aspects of life? All and any of these could be a useful way to approach an analysis of the play.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Llareggub

Llareggub (yah-REH-guhb). Small fishing village on the coast of Wales. Despite the name’s Welsh appearance, it is actually a typical Thomas joke—“bugger all,” spelled backward. The phrase is a vulgar colloquialism which means “nothing” or “worthless” in British English—Thomas’s way of suggesting that the play’s actions be taken lightly.

Thomas seems to have modeled the village on the real Welsh coastal village of Laugharne, where he lived for many years. Despite his joking name for Llareggub, his play treats the village with love. The Milk Wood trees on the hills above it, its streets and lanes (Goosegog Lane, Coronation Street), its River Dewi—all such details suggest Thomas’s interest in making a realistic, if sometimes comic, territory for his characters, themselves sometimes comic, to inhabit. Although village life may be universal, characters such as Organ Morgan, with his passion for the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Reverend Eli Jenkins, whose passion is poetry, bear the stereotypes of the Welsh character.

Like the people who live there, Llareggub is defined by the sea. Its pub is the Sailors Arms; retired Captain Cat...

(The entire section is 1,033 words.)