Exploration of dreams, symbols and archetypes in Dylan Thomas play for voices Under Milk Wood
This paper seeks to assert that Dylan Thomas’ play Under Milk Wood can be successfully viewed using Freudian and Jungian psychoanalytic techniques. It will attempt to not only isolate and highlight many instances of typical psychical symbolism in the work but also what could be thought of as psychoanalytic mechanisms; especially as they relate to Freuds notions of the Dreamwork in his The Interpretation of Dreams (1997) or Jungs archetypes and collective unconscious.
By doing this I hope to not only subject Thomas work to a rigorous psychoanalytical exegesis, uncovering hidden personal symbols, structures and images, but also highlight the psychosocial depth of Under Milk Wood; a depth that has hitherto been overlooked by some critics. Through this I hope to assess the notion that Thomas was every bit as influenced by Freud and Jung as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were a generation before.
I will begin, in my Introduction, to give an outline of the importance of Freud and psychoanalysis to post-World War One literature and what Dylan Thomas place within that was; paying particular attention to Thomas own assertions on the importance of psychoanalysis in his work and the ways that it was greeted by the literati of the 1930s and 40s.
The first chapter will be dedicated to a discussion of Under Milk Wood and its creation, looking at such areas as plot construction, the structural nature of the piece and its creative aetiology.
From here I will go on to discuss the notion of the Freudian dreamwork and its manifestations in Under Milk Wood. The dreamwork, exemplified by such concepts as condensation, displacement and secondary revision, is a central concept in the Freudian cannon and, as such, has become an important interpretive tool for both psychoanalysts and literary critics.
It is with this in mind that I shall attempt to isolate instances of all four of the major mechanisms of the dreamwork in Thomas play whilst relating them to the wider issues of poetic creativity and narrative structure. I will also offer a brief discussion of how Jungs interpretation of dreams differed from Freuds before going on to examine how both can be used to inform us of Thomas play.
The third chapter will be dedicated to Jungian archetypes. I will isolate and discuss the many instances of archetypal imagery in the play, paying special attention to the way in which they fit in with Thomas over all poetic sense as it is displayed in his use of language, narrative and plot. This chapter will also examine the role of the collective unconscious and relate it to the Modernist technique of the stream of consciousness novel and the works of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
My conclusion will attempt to answer the main hypothesis of this paper, that indeed psychoanalytic techniques and knowledge can be used to understand Dylan Thomass play and also what that says about the playwrights role as a modern day bard.
Introduction: “The Analytic Revelation”
Thomas Manns paper “The Significance of Freud” published in 1936 gives us some indications as to the importance of early psychoanalysis on the literary life of Europe and America:
“The analytic revelation is a revolutionary force. With it a blithe scepticism has come into the world, a mistrust that unmasks all the schemes and subterfuges of our own souls. Once roused and on alert, it cannot be put to sleep again. It infiltrates life, undermines its raw naïveté, takes from it the strain of its own ignorance…” (Mann, 1965: 591)
As Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane assert in their study Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930 (1991), this “revolutionary force” was a large constituent of early twentieth century notions of, not only Modernism in literature and the arts but also, what it meant to be a modern man or woman.
The early Modernist writers of the inter-war period not only embraced Freud and psychoanalysis as heralding a new paradigm of self-sufficiency and ontological autonomy but also, as a journal entry by Andre Gide exposes, thought themselves part of an existing groundswell of thought that was, above all, quintessentially new:
“Freud…Freudianism…For the last ten years, or fifteen, I have been indulging in it without knowing.” (Gide, 1967: 349)
The connection between psychoanalysis and literature has always been problematic. Freud, himself asserts in the opening paragraphs to his essay “The Uncanny” (2005) that “only rarely (does) a psycho-analyst (feel) impelled to investigate the subject of aesthetics” (Freud, 2000: 1), however writers, critics and even Freud himself have made extensive use of the interpretive similarities between the two disciplines . Not only are there are a whole host of studies devoted to the use of psychoanalysis in literary criticism but in the Introduction to his novel The White Hotel (1999), D.M. Thomas draws attention to the extraordinarily literary quality of Fr
euds case studies; each containing many of the tropes and leitmotifs one would normally associate with a creative work. For Freud, the psychical mechanisms of creative writing and dreaming are in, some senses at least, inextricably linked. Both are based in a tripartite system of ideational fantasy formation consisting of: a current situational issue or concern that provokes the memory of a childhood incident or trauma which, in turn, shapes some future action in the guise of a wish fulfilment. Freud sets out the relationship between this system and literature in his essay “Creative Writers and Day Dreaming” (Freud, 1986):
“We are perfectly aware that very many imaginative writings are far removed from the model of the naïve daydream; and yet I cannot suppress the suspicions that even the most extreme deviations from that model could be linked with it through an uninterrupted series of transitional cases.” (Freud, 1986: 150)
Freud continues to explain the disparity between the mind of the creative writer and the ordinary day-dreamer, asserting that whereas the latter results in a self-conscious repression of desire (the wishes of the day-dreamer being best left unspoken) the former revels in and promulgates such desire, translated as it is by artistic skill and temperament:
“The writer softens the character of his egoistic day-dreams by altering and disguising it, and he bribes us by the purely formal – that is aesthetic – yield of pleasure which he offers us in the presentation of his phantasies.” (Freud, 1986: 153)
This essay, perhaps more than any other work of Freuds, highlights for us the attraction of psychoanalysis to early twentieth century writers. Metaphysically and spiritually sceptical after the mass slaughter of the First World War and the alienation engendered by rise of the industrial paradigm, Freudian theory offered (as testified by Manns essay) a distinctly human, non-metaphysical and wholly scientific explanation for the place of the artist within society. For Freud, the artist was distinct from the rest of the populous but this had a purely psychical aetiology, leaving no imperative for notions of religious or supra-human inspiration.
This is undoubtedly some of the attraction of Freudianism for Dylan Thomas who, throughout his letters and early work makes both use and reference to writers and critics that were, themselves, heavily influenced by Freud and psychoanalysis. Francis Scarfe, in the essay “Dylan Thomas: A Pioneer” (1960) cites Freud as a major influence on the formation of Thomas early poetic voice, derived in the main from his experiences with what Scarfe calls “Sitwellism” (Scarfe, 1960: 96):
“The dominant points of contact seems to be James Joyce, the Bible and Freud. The personal habits of language and mythology of Dylan Thomas can readily be identified through these three sources.” (Scarfe, 1960: 96)
If Joyce lent the young poet some of the lyricism and sense of narrative and the Bible some of the rich cadence and verbal poetics, Freud enabled Thomas to look within his own unconscious and find images and leitmotifs that would find resonance with the rest of humanity as, firstly, personal then increasingly Bardic and archetypal symbols formed the basis of his work.
An early poem of Thomas clearly mirrors the hyperbole of Freuds first lectures on psychoanalysis; the poet and the analyst both evoking the image of the journey into an unknown by an antonymous but courageous individual:
“The midnight road, though young man tread unknowking. Harbouring some thought of heaven, or haven hoping. Yields peace and plenty at the end. “ (Thomas, 1990: 119)
We can compare this to Freuds famous analogy that is evoked throughout his work:
“The interpretation of dreams is in fact the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious; it is the securest foundation of psycho-analysis and the field in which evey worker must acquire his convictions and seek his training. If I am asked how one can become a psycho-analyst, I reply: “By studying ones own dreams”” (Freud, 1957: 60)
Interestingly, Thomas himself was reluctant to acknowledge his debt to Freud, choosing instead to suggest a notion that we have already posited here; that Freuds influence is paradigmatic. He says in the collection of interviews “Notes on the Art of Poetry” (1963) that his writing is influenced by Freud only through the work others , itself a testament to the extent that Freudian theory and, indeed, the whole of psychoanalytic thought has permeated the very fabric of modern literature.
Thomas notebooks poems, his earliest poetic statements, are suffused with what we shall see are Freudian images, inspired perhaps not by psychoanalysis itself but by the poets interest in Surrealism and their early antecedents the 18th century Metaphysical poets.
Works such as:
“Where once the waters of your face
Spun to my screws, your dry ghost blows,
The dead turns up its eye…” (Thomas, 1990: 217)
“In wasting one drop from the hearts honey cells.
One precious drop that, for the moment, quells
Desires pain…” (Thomas, 1990: 133)
Clearly reflect the artistic tenants set out in Bretons Manifestoes of Surrealism (1972) that sought to combine Freudian concepts of the dreamwork with aesthetic creation . As we shall see in the first chapter of this paper, this delight in the surreal as it relates to the Freudian image remained with Thomas throughout all of his working life and, most certainly, manifests itself in Under Milk Wood.
The analytic revelations then, of Freud , have not only influenced those writers such as Breton, Auden and Woolf who are were intimately acquainted with his writing but also writers like Dylan Thomas who, by his own admission, came to psychoanalysis through other creative writers works.
This paper, like many others, uses psychoanalytic theory as a methodology with which to uncover latent symbols, patterns and structures within Thomas work. It will not only relate such symbols to the poets own poetic vision but will, through Jungian theory, expand these so that they encompass universal archetypes and concepts such as the collective unconscious that structures the unconscious and, inevitably finds its way into works of a creative nature .
Chapter One: “To Begin at the Beginning”
Dylan Thomas play for voices Under Milk Wood began life as a small radio broadcast Quiet Early One Morning (Sinclair, 1975, Jones, 1963) and this short piece is easily recognisable as the genesis for the larger work. There are, for instance, many of the same basic characters – the milkman “still lost in the clangour and music of Welsh-spoken dreams” (Thomas, 1992), the sea captain, the lonely lady “Miss May Hughes” and even the tragic-comic Mrs Ogmore Pritchard. There is the same sense of poetic cadence that constantly adds to the somatic quality of the writing, lulling the reader into a musical trance as sibilance and assonance is combined with Thomas particular inner rhythms, such as in this extract:
“The sun lit the sea-town, not as a whole, from topmost down reproving zinc-roofed chapel to empty-but-for-rats-and-whispers grey warehouse on the harbour, but in separate bright pieces.” (Thomas, 1978: 15)
The story, recited by Thomas himself in 1944 on the BBC, describes the still sleeping town of New Quay in Cardiganshire (Maud, 1992) and weaves external description with internal monologue as the narrator flits in and out of the dreaming consciousnesses of the towns inhabitants. In the story, each paragraph brings a new image or a new perspective but what we are ultimately presented with is the stream of consciousness of the narrator; in the story, unlike in Under Milk Wood, an impersonal but altogether discernable “I”:
“Quite early one morning in the winter in Wales, by the sea that was lying down still and green as grass after a night of tar-black howling and rolling, I went out of the house, where I had come to stay for a cold unseasonable holiday…” Thomas, 1978: 15)
It is this point, this appearance of the personal pronoun that, as we shall see, makes Quite Early One Morning markedly different to Under Milk Wood. Thomas, however, retains the sense of dreamy absurdity, as images are juxtaposed for comic effect amid the repeated refrain of “The town was not yet awake”.
Under Milk Wood grew out of this humble beginning and is both markedly similar and surprisingly different . Both works reflect, as Derek Stanford (1954) suggests, the cadences, characterisation and plot construction of Joyces Ulysses (1979), being as they are the collective narratives of a whole town in the same time period. Both works, however, are also embryonic, Quite Early One Morning obviously being a blueprint for Under Milk Wood but this also being merely a fragmentary snapshot of a larger planned work that was never finished (Jones, 1986: ix).
Under Milk Wood also resembles the cyclical structure of Joyces other great work Finnegans Wake (1992). Thomas play abounds with references to beginnings and commencements; we have, for instance, the famous first lines:
“To begin at the beginning:
It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
And bible-black…” (Thomas, 2000: 1)
That not only evokes the biblical “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen, 1:1) but also the creational sense of Joyces reference to the beginnings of mankind in the opening lines of his novel:
“riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth castle and Environs.” (Joyce, 1992: 3)
In Under Milk Wood, the cyclical nature of the day is metonymous with the seasonal nature of the year and this with the life of a human being as Thomas juxtaposes images of beginnings, babies and births with ageing, infirmity and death; as in this passage:
“All over town, babies and old men are cleaned
and put into their broken prams and wheeled on to
the sunlit cockled cobbles or out into the backyards
under the dancing underclothes, and left. A baby cries.”
(Thomas, 2000: 27)
As we shall see, this notion of the circle, of repeating is important to both Freud and Jung; Freud through his insistence on the importance of the return in notions such as repression and the death drive and Jung, through his concept of the mandala as a recurring symbol. Like Joyce, Thomas displays circles within circles, as the plot and structure of the work as a whole mirrors the framework of the characters lives and psyches. We see this reflected in many of the plays most successful characters, witness for instance the constant iteration of Mrs Ogmore Pritchard, as she repeats her life over and over again with different husbands, only to have them revisit her after their deaths:
“Mr Ogmore, linoleum, retired, and Mr Pritchard, failed bookmaker, who maddened by besoming, swabbing and scrubbing, the voice of the vacuum cleaner and the fume of the polish, ironically swallowed disinfectant, fidgets in her rinsed sleep, wakes in a dream and nudges in the ribs dead Mr Ogmore, dead Mr Pritchard, ghostly on either side.” (Thomas, 2000: 10)
The same can be said, of course, for Captain Cat, whose dreams and waking life are characterised not by the dead per se, but by their return as he witnesses the phantasmatic manifestations of either his repression or the collective unconscious (whether one is citing Freud or Jung). The sense, in Under Milk Wood, is that of a blithe acceptance of the passing of time and the knowledge that things return; the sunrise, the Spring and the dead. This is reflected in many of Thomas poems, for instance in the closing lines of “I See the Boys of Summer”:
“I am the man your father was.
We are the sons of flint and pitch.
Oh see the poles are kissing as they cross!”
(Thomas, 1990: 219)
In this, also, as Karl Jay Shapiro asserts in his study In Defense of Ignorance (1960), Thomas work clearly reflects what was a seminal poem for the young poets generation W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming” (1987) which contains images of both beginnings and circles within circles. In the next chapter I will look at how these aspects of Under Milk Wood can be interpreted through the psychoanalytical work of Freud and Jung, paying attention specifically to their concepts of dreams and dreaming; again another leitmotif of Thomas play that can be seen to come from Joyces Finnegans Wake.
Chapter Two: The Dreamwork, the Symbol and Captain Cat
Freud On Dreams As Richard Wollheim suggests, Freuds theories on dreams are the “most remarkable single element” (Wollheim, 1971: 66) of his psychoanalytical project and Freud himself in his essay “On Dreams” (1991) stresses the primacy of dream interpretation in his system:
“The transformation of the latent dream-thoughts into the manifest dream-content deserves all out attention, since it is the first instance known to us of psychical material being changed over from one mode of expression to another.” (Freud, 1991: 89)
For Freud, dreams serve as symptoms of unconscious repression in the same way as parapraxes (slips of the tongue) and instances of forgetfulness. The content of dreams can, he said, be split into the latent and the manifest; the one providing a shield for the other as the Unconscious gives up its fissures and problems that have been repressed by the Ego during waking hours. Freuds work The Interpretation of Dreams attempts to provide a full scale, largely scientific study of not merely the symbolism of dreams but also their mechanism; a mechanism that he termed the ‘dreamwork.
The dreamwork can be thought of as a process (Wollheim, 1971) that transcribes the latent content of dreams into the language of the manifest. Freud is clear in The Interpretation of Dreams that psychoanalysis does not deal with the simple ‘translation of images or primitive notions of symbol exchange that sees dreams as merely scripts that can be easily interpreted using a universal dictionary, although he does acquiesce to the point that some symbols recur on a universal level.
Instead, Freud sees dreams as the return of repressed desires and their attendant wishes that find a voice in the psychical economy through a process of disguise. The desire, as Richard Stevens (1983) suggests, “will be fused with experiences and thoughts from the previous day or even events occurring during the course of the night” (Stevens, 1983: 30). The dreamwork, in the Freudian system, is both the mechanism of disguise and the tool of interpretation because it contains an internal logic that can be used by the analyst to trace the source of repression and, through the process of transference, brought into the conscious and rendered harmless (Freud, 1997).
Perhaps the most important concept within The Interpretation of Dreams is the four-fold dreamwork mechanism that can be used, not only in dream interpretation but as we shall see, in the critical appreciation of literature. Freud termed these mechanisms condensation, displacement, representation and secondary revision and before I go to look at how each one fits into Under Milk Wood specifically I would like to, briefly, offer up an explanation as to how each effects the manifest dream-content and ergo the literary image or trope.
This is, perhaps, the most common dream feature and is what gives dreams their sparse, confusing quality. For Freud, dream-thoughts are many and varied, each bombarding the dreamwork simultaneously:
“The dream is meagre, paltry and laconic in comparison with the range and copiousness of the dream-thoughts. The dream, when written down fills half a page; the analysis, which contains the dream-thoughts requires six, eight, twelve times as much space.” (Freud, 1997: 170)
Condensation manifests itself as images laden with meaning, as the unconscious overlays and condenses two or more dream-thoughts into one motif. Part of the skill of the analyst according to Freud is the extent that such condensation can be unravelled and successive layers of unconscious meaning and repression peeled back and revealed (Freud, 1965: 313).
Whereas Freud was dubious as to the possibility of ever reaching a definitive dream interpretation because of the very nature of condensation, he also asserted that the ways in which dream-thoughts are condensed gives the analyst a clue as to their psychical meaning. Freud cites his own dream of the Botanical Monograph as an example of the way in which different dream-thoughts can be condensed into one dream-image; the latent meaning only becoming apparent when this relationship is exposed .
Displacement refers to the substituting of elements within dreams. Due to the nature of the unconscious, elements and images that have a similar psychical economy invariably end up being displaced, one for the other. In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud characterises displacement as constituting a de-centring of the dream-thoughts:
“We may have noticed that these elements which obtrude themselves in the dream-content as its essential components do not by any means play this same part in the dream-thoughts.” ( Freud, 1997: 190)
Displacement, like condensation, arises from the synchronous nature of the unconscious and manifests itself in two ways; firstly, through the substituting of dream-thoughts, so that dreams can appear absurd and illogical and, secondly through shifting meanings – an image may possess one meaning in one nights dream and another on a different night. Melanie Klein, for instance, in her essay “Psychological Principles of Early Analysis”
(1991) offers us some interesting insights into how displacement works in something other than the dream; the child at play.
“My analyses again and again reveal how many different things, dolls for example, can mean in play. Sometimes they stand for the penis, sometimes for the child stolen from the mother, sometimes for the little patient itself etc.” (Klein, 1991: 134)
Both condensation and displacement have been used as the basis for theories of Surrealist aesthetics, as Carrouges and Prendergast assert in their study Andre Breton and the Basic Concepts of Surrealism (1974: 192) which uses seemingly disparate images juxtaposed in order to create an illogical, dream-like tableaux.
Representation refers to the dreamworks tendency to present feelings, repressions and notions as images and symbols. Unlike many pre-Freudian systems of dream interpretation such symbolisation is centred, to a very large extent, around the dreamers own personal history and psychology. However as I have already stated there are, due to the inter-subjective nature of the psyche, recurring symbols and motifs that can be found in a great many peoples dreams.
Richard Stevens in his Freud and Psychoanalysis (1983) mentions just a few of them:
“small boxes, chests, cupboards and ovens correspond to the female organ; also cavities, ships and all kinds of vessels. The actions of climbing ladders, stairs, inclines or flying may be used to symbolise sexual intercourse; having a haircut, tooth pulled or being beheaded, castration.” (Stevens, 1983: 33)
Secondary revision refers to the mental processes that occur after the dreamer awakes and that organises and places the otherwise absurd and disparate images and themes into a, relatively, cohesive narrative. Wollheim points to there being doubt in Freuds later work as to the place of secondary revision within the dreamwork (Wollhein, 1971: 69) but, as a concept, it has been important in many neo-Freudian systems of aesthetics especially, as Charles Altman points out in his essay “Psychoanalysis and Cinema” (1986: 526), by the French school of film critics who saw it as, not so much an integral part of the dreamwork, but as the main constituent in narrative formation and the audience/film dialectic.
Jung On Dreams
Dreams play as important a role in the work of Carl Jung as Sigmund Freud (Fordham, 1964) however the former not only sees their place in the psychical economy differently but has, as he explains in Man and his Symbols (1964), created an entirely separate process of interpretation and translation.
Jung disagreed with Freuds notion of the dreamwork and his method of free association whereby the analysand recalls a dream and lets their mind wander through the myriad of different unconscious connections only to be unravelled and assessed by the analyst. For Jung, this process is likely to uncover neuroses and repression but is unlikely to uncover them connected with the dream. For Jung, the further away from the central motifs of the dream-image one gets the further away one travels from the locus of their meaning.
Therefore, under a Jungian system, dreams consist not of personal motifs of repression returning through the dreamwork but as expressions of either the personal or collective unconscious. The method of extracting the meaning from dreams is centred around the correct reading of such symbols and an evaluation of how they relate to either the dreamers personal or their phyllogenetic background, as Jung himself asserts:
“Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature, they show us unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature.” (Jung, 1989: 55)
Jung viewed the waking, conscious perceptions as having a penumbra of associated psychical meanings (Jung, 1964: 28), even the very simplest of actions, for instance seeing or hearing, can involve a gamut of other ideational and experiential relations and it is this that we witness in dreams; the whole of our unconscious unfettered by the ordering, the siphoning and the categorisation of the conscious mind.
For Jung, then, the absurd quality of dreams, their surreal nature comes not from intervention of the dreamwork but from the cultural and personal associations attached to perceptions and experiences.
Thomas On Dreams
Both Freuds and Jungs systems of dream interpretation offer us important critical tools with which to view Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood both in terms of the images and symbols the playwright uses in order to convey the sense of the somatic and the dream-like and his use of surrealism as a semi-comic trope throughout the piece.
The play begins in the collective dream of the town. Just like the short story Quite Early One Morning, the audience is taken on a journey through the consciousnesses of the sleeping townsfolk as they dream their separate dreams, shaped (as both Freud and Jung assert) by their individual consciousnesses and personalities. Captain Cat, for example, experiences the return of the repressed guilt he feels towards his long dead shipmates:
“Captain Cat, the retired blind sea-captain, asleep in his bunk in the seashelled, ship-in-bottled, shipshape best cabin of Schooner House dreams of
Second Voice: never such seas as any that swamped the decks of the S.S. Kidwelly bellying over bedclothes and jellyfish-slippery sucking him down salt deep into the Davy dark” (Thomas, 2000: 2)
Thomas, here, reflects both Freudian and Jungian dream analysis as Captain Cats dreams abound with symbols of his past and are unmistakably suffuse with the characters own visual lexicon, what Jung calls the “dream language” (Jung, 1986: 33). The same can be said of Dai Bread who dreams of “harems”, Polly Garter who dreams of “babies” and even Nogood Boyo who dreams of “nothing”.
However, within the very text of Under Milk Wood we notice each one of the four elements of the Freudian dreamwork. The dense language is a clear instance of condensation: the vital elements of the imagistic leitmotifs are extracted and pile one on top of another, as adjective combines with adjective to form the quintessentially Thomasian poetics, such as here where the playwright draws a finely tuned portrait of Mrs Dai Bread One, the wife of the baker:
“Me, Mrs Dai Bread One, capped and shawled and no old corset, nice to be comfy, nice to be nice, clogging on the cobbles to stir up a neighbour. Oh, Mrs Sarah, can you spare a loaf, love? Dai Bread forgot the bread. Theres a lovely morning! Hows your boils this morning?” (Thomas, 2000: 22)
Thomas both describes the sense of a dream here and, through condensation, utilizes its mechanism. Words and phrases are juxtaposed and their meaning condensed in a way that mirrors almost exactly the workings of Freuds dreamwork. We see this reflected many times throughout the narrative of Under Milk Wood, as the author evokes in a linguistic sense what Freud saw in a psychoanalytic sense.
We see, for example a clear literary rendering of displacement in the absurd portrait of Cherry Owen as described by the Second Voice:
“Cherry Owen, next door, lifts a tankard to his lips but nothing flows out of it. He shakes the tankard. It turns into a fish. He drinks the fish.” (Thomas, 2000: 13)
Here the incongruous image of a fish replaces or displaces the tankard that Cherry Owen drinks from adding to the dreamy quality of the early passages of the play. As a cultural symbol, the fish also mirrors the third of the Freudian mechanisms, representation, whereby a linguistic notion “He drinks like a fish” is rendered in a quasi-comic symbolic form.
Of course, the ultimate use of dreams and dreaming in Under Milk Wood is the plot itself. Both Freud and Jung rely heavily on the concept of the return within their respective dream philosophies (Stevens, 1983; Fordham, 1964) and this is reflected in the very structure of the play that could, after all, be thought of as merely the manifest dream-content of the First Voice, or perhaps even Thomas himself.
Like a dream, the text iterates, as we shall see in the next chapter, the same basic images and archetypes; the symbols are at once full of meaning in themselves and signifiers for other things. The First Voice can be seen as the voice of God but also of secondary revision, knitting disparate elements together to form a narrative that can be followed and engaged with.
As the characters awake, their lives, as they are described by the First and Second voice, are shown to be no less absurd than the irrationality of their dreams. This is perhaps because the entire play can itself be seen as a dream of the authors in which he creates, as he states in a letter to A.G. Prys Jones, “a never-never Wales” (Thomas, 1985: 848) that, like its Peter Pan counterpart, is as much a manifest wish of its author as anything else.
Chapter Three: The Shadow, T
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