Under Milk Wood

by Dylan Thomas

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Community and Individuality

The town of Llareggub shows the community as a whole, yet also offers a deeper dive into the individuality of many characters. There is no true protagonist; it is a collective story about the many. The narrative approaches this balance in an intriguing way: through a peek into people’s dreams and daydreams. In this sense, the play is an offering of a very intimate humanness—an intimacy that “real” life cannot offer. To know someone’s dreams and thoughts is quite personal. The narrative lets us know who dreams of who, or how each person’s real life experiences make their way into the dream world. In a town like Llareggub, it seems that people are caught between an old and new way of living. The more people in the area, the less intimately everybody knows everybody. There is more distance in a larger community, so the idea of knowing people in an authentic manner is more of a rarity. Thus, the audience has a unique look into people’s personal lives that is lost in the trajectory of Llareggub. The private lives of citizens are multifaceted and unique, emphasizing that each individual is much more complex than anyone in the general public could know.

Love and Its Complications

A prominent theme throughout the play is romantic love. The play does not present an idealized version of romance, however. Oftentimes, the narrative focuses on the thorny parts of love. Under Milk Wood depicts cheating, failed marriages, children out of wedlock, and secret rendezvouses. Love is not simple or perfect, and it certainly is not in Llareggub. Let us take a look at the baker, Dai Bread. Though his name is quite fitting, his personal life is even more engaging: he is married to two different women at the same time. This is out of the norm in this Welsh town. Lily Smalls, a maid, spends both her waking and sleeping hours dreaming about romance. She longs for an opportunity to break free from her mundane life, and romance is her preferred escape fantasy. Polly and Mr. Ward are engaged in an affair conducted under the cover of Milk Wood. The teacher and barkeeper pine for one another yet do not act on their feelings. With these instances in mind, love is depicted as complicated and sometimes painful. Love is messy and complex, and therefore very human.

The Role of Nature

The play’s title, Under Milk Wood, gives a clue as to what is important to notice throughout the story. Llareggub is a Welsh fishing village with a major duality at play: the nature surrounding the town, and the town itself. Milk Wood, the forest hideaway used for romantic excursions, is located just off of the town proper. Nature, therefore, serves as an opportunity for connection. The forested guise of Milk Wood allows couples to be together no matter the specifics of their relationship. We come to understand that though Llareggub is a coastal town with fishing and sailing at its core, it is too “urban” for the average romantic rendezvous. There is a sense of publicness associated with the town proper (with good reason, given the inhabitants the audience has been introduced to). Gossip runs rampant, making it difficult to hide from neighbors. Under Milk Wood presents nature as a refuge, playing the role of an in-between zone where certain behaviors are tolerated. According to Jack Black, who routinely disrupts Milk Wood’s lovebirds, it is a place of sin. Mary Ann Sailors thinks of it like the Garden of Eden. Perhaps in a similar vein, the Reverend believes Milk Wood encapsulates human innocence. It means different things to different townspeople, as is evidenced by the end of the play. What stands true, however, is the fact that nature allows people to operate under different rules than in the town of Llareggub itself.

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