Dylan Thomas | English Literature Dissertations
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, The Anima and the People of Llareggub.
As Avis M. Dry suggests in The Psychology of Jung: A Critical Interpretation (1961), whilst dreams may be an important factor in the psychology of Jung he is, perhaps, best known for his theory of the collective unconscious and the archetypes that are commensurate with this. In this chapter I will examine the main tenants of Jungs notions and isolate instances of them in Under Milk Wood, once again using psychoanalytical concepts to greater understand the plot structure and character formation of a text.
For Jung, the unconscious exists in two forms, the personal and the collective. The former comprises of, as we have seen, the minutiae of daily life that the conscious chooses not to focus on. Our perceptions register all manner of experiences, sensations and ideas but only a scant proportion of them are fully realised in the consciousness for as Jung asserts: “
…part of the unconscious consists of a multitude of temporarily obscured thoughts, impressions and images that, in spite of being lost, continue to influence our conscious minds.” (Jung, 1964: 18)
Similar to the Freudian notion of the unconscious as harbinger of instincts and drives, Jung sees it as containing the remnants of both the overflow of conscious activity and the inheritance of our animal selves. This allows the unconscious to not only act as a repository of images and symbols that manifest themselves later through dreams, slips of the tongue and neuroses but also to act as a conduit for the shared library of symbolic creation that he calls the collective unconscious.
The collective unconscious, according to Jung, is a deeper stratum of mans psyche that has varied and profound affects in not only personal thoughts and dreams but also cultural activities such as art and literature . Within the collective unconscious and due in the most part to mans propensity for symbol creation, are archetypal images and notions that organise our thoughts and allow us to engage with a simplified existence. However, the most basic of archetypes, the shadow, the anima and the animus, appear because of the specific make up of the soul and its relation to the persona and it is these that I would like to concentrate on here .
In order to exist within an organised and relatively civilised society, asserted Jung, the instinctual animal nature of our psyche must be repressed and buried within our personal and (in the case of the whole of society) our collective unconscious. All of the traits that we would normally attribute to our baser selves, aggression, confrontation, immorality etc. are confined to a transversal area of the soul that Jung called the shadow.
The shadow is a universal concept, it applies to all human beings but in subtly different ways depending on cultural make-up and socio-historic reference. The shadow also makes itself felt within the realm of art and literature for instance in Robert Louis Stevensons The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1994) where this psychical split is rendered literal, as Anthony Stevens highlights :
“The coexistence of these two sharply contrasting personalities within the same individual is as apparent in literature as in life: Dorian Gray, the handsome, witty, man-about-town, keeps his portrait hidden where no one can see it, for it bears all the features of his vicious secret life; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are the same man, by turns respectable physician and monstrous ogre;” (Stevens, 2001: 65)
The shadow manifests itself through archetypal images of evil and darkness both in individual and collective psychology.
According to Jung, each subject contains elements of both sexes: a man contains feminine elements and a woman masculine. Such notions are based on idealised conceptions and are termed by Jung the anima (relating to the female ideal held by the male) and the animus (relating to the male ideal held by the female). Like the shadow, these manifest themselves in art and literature as idealised archetypes and can been seen in all manner of religious iconography and artistic creation. Jung himself attributes the anima to the proliferation of female ideal projections in notions such as the Earth Goddess and the Madonna and the animus to the universal hero archetype such as Ulysses or even the Germanic Siegfried (Jung, 1986: 83)
Under a Jungian system, of course, such archetypes will proliferate all works of art being, as they are the constituents of the psyche, however close exegesis reveals that an understanding of Under Milk Wood can be greatly enhanced if we use Jungs concepts as a basis.
Thomas constantly makes use of such archetypes throughout his text that is, at its heart concerned, as Richard Burton famously stated, with “religion, sex and death” (Sinclair, 1975: 197). We see for instance reflections of the anima in the character of Polly Garter who serves as a male projected symbol of fecundity and sexuality in constant juxtaposition to Miss Price, the clipped “natty as a jenny wren” (Thomas, 2000: 22) spinster.
Polly Garter is as much an archetypal symbol of feminine creation as Diana (Frazer, 1994: 8) or even the Madonna. In one of her most potent scenes she is pictured in her garden “under the washing line, giving the breast to (her) bonny baby” (Thomas, 2000: 22) in an obvious poetic evocation of archetypal Madonna and child symbolism:
“Nothing grows in our garden, only washing. And babies. And wheres their fathers live, my love? Over the hills and far away. Youre looking up at me now. I know what youre thinking, you poor little milk creature. Youre thinking youre no better than you should be, Polly, and thats good enough for me.” (Thomas, 200: 22)
It is obvious that what concerns Thomas here is not the realistic portrait of an unmarried mother in love with her child but something deeper, something that emanates from the collective unconscious and that evokes the primordial cathexis a male child has to the female parent; a relationship that has been enshrined in almost all religious doctrines. In this way she becomes, not only the anima of Thomas own projection but a projection of the masculine elements of society, representing more an ideal than an individual.
Commensurate with this idea, Polly Garter, who can only stand as symbolic anima to the men in the play, is as much vilified by the female characters as longed for by the male. Mrs Pugh, for instance, assumes P.C. Attila Rees intends to arrest Polly for “having babies” (Thomas, 2000: 21) and, later she and Mrs Organ Morgan gossip idlely about her moral worth (Thomas, 2000: 47) .
Indeed, many of the female characters in Under Milk Wood fulfil this anima role, existing as archetypal projections of either womanhood or its shadow. Gossamer Beynon, for example, or Mog Edwards Myfanwy Price serve as ideals that fascinate and entrap the feelings of the male characters; inspiring their lusts, their love and their poetry.
The animus also appears in various guises throughout the play. Captain Cat, for instance reflects the extension of the animus, the concept that Jung termed “the wise old man” (Fordham, 1964: 60). For Jung, as the female archetype extends into the universal Mother so the male archetype becomes the “wise old man”:
“Besides these figures (the shadow, the anima and the animus) there are still a few others, less frequent and less striking, which have likewise undergone poetic as well as mythological formation. I would like to mention, for instance, the figure of the hero and of the wise old man, to name only two of the best known.” (Jung, 1986: 222)
Captain Cats objective and removed position in the narrative characterises him in this role and so too that of the Reverend Eli Jenkins who, through his poetry, exists also as the paternal archetype of Wales and the Welsh people; fulfilling a position in the personal unconscious of the author and the collective unconscious of his socio-historic community. This point is highlighted by the beneficence of the opening stanzas of the Reverend Jenkins “sunset poem”:
“Every morning when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep They lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.”
(Thomas, 2000: 58)
Unmistakably here, Thomas evokes the archetype of the father or the “wise man” of the Jungian system. The Reverend Eli Jenkins speaks not only for his flock but for all men and in all times and stands in stark contrast to the feminine inconstancy of Polly Garter, his female counter part in Jungian theory.
As we have already touched upon in the chapter devoted to dreams, the play also abounds with shadows, those of Captain Cat, the ghosts of Mr. Ogmore and Mr. Pritchard and the phantasmatic lovers of Bessie Bighead. It is, however, in the character of Mr Pugh that the shadow finds it true Jungian fruition, as time and time again the henpecked husband swallows that which is evil, destructive and aggressive in him to conform to the legal system of society, as in this blackly comic scene where Pugh, briefly, allows his shadow self to materialise:
“First Voice: Mr. Pugh, in the School House opposite, takes up the morning tea to
Mrs Push, and whispers in the stairs
Mr. Pugh: Heres your arsenic, dear.
And your weedkiller biscuit.
Ive throttled your parakeet.
Ive spat in the vases.
Ive out cheese in the mouseholes.
…nice tea dear.”
(Thomas, 2000: 20)
In many ways, all of the characters in Under Milk Wood are archetypes, each one representing a part of the collective psyche of Llareggub that, as we have already hinted at, could be thought of as a mass consciousness in itself. Under the Jungian system, each unconscious psyche exists on both a personal and a collective level and this is what we witness in the structure and the framework of Thomas play. We have the individual consciousness (and unconsciousness) of the characters and yet, linked through the First Voice, they each have a shared vision and a shared Ego.
Initially, as Paul Ferris asserts in his notes to Dylan Thomas Collected Letters (Ferris, 1985: 597) Under Milk Wood was entitled The Town the was Mad and, when viewed from a psychoanalytic perspective, we can appreciate this sentiment. Llareggub is as much a shared collective unconsciousness as a town; the unreality of the text, with its images reflecting the dreamwork and its archetypal symbols, certainly hints at a collective sense of communal psychosis and the characters add to the sense of madness and irrationality.
The concept of the collective unconscious, also, helps us to place Thomas play within a literary history that includes such notions as the Modernist technique of stream of consciousness. As Shiv Kumar suggests in his study Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness Novel (1963), as a literary technique, it is an aesthetic expression of a philosophical notion that questions the empirical nature of concepts such as time and perception and makes use of inter-subjective experience to suggest a collective mind. Kumars assertions on Joyces technique can, as we have seen, be equally directed at Thomas:
“Psychologists like Jung and Freud; philosophers like Bergson, Berkeley ("Miss Bulkeley"), Alexander; historian-philosophers like Vico and Spengler; anthropologists like Frazer and LevyBruhl; scientists like Einstein ("Winestain"), J. W. Dunne and Eddington; the symbolists and the naturalists, to mention only a few, have all contributed towards lending a multidimensional significance to his work.” (Kumar, 1963: 103)
We see these same influences in Under Milk Wood, as time and perception is distorted and questioned. The First Voice, like the voice of God, adds a weight and surety to the lives of the people of Llareggub; connecting them in a symbiotic web of shared experience that is, ultimately, also fractured and fragmented into subjectivity.
The plot of Under Milk Wood suggests the deeper connectivity of the collective unconscious, with each character experiencing a sense of reality that is both personal and communal. In the conclusion to this paper I will go on to examine how this concept fits in with Thomas place as Welsh bard and what the play, itself has come to mean for Welsh society and its sense of identity.
Chapter Four: Conclusions and Thomas the Bard
In his study Dylan the Bard (1999), Andrew Sinclair makes the connection between Thomas the poet and Thomas the Bardic voice:
“Dylan loved Wales and sang its countryside more clearly than any other bard or minstral had done. He also loved its towns and the little city of Swansea, and he wrote comic and sad plays and stories about them that seemed to catch their essence in the opinions of most people who lived there or visited there.” (Sinclair, 1999: 223)
That Thomas poetic voice was for the people as opposed to academia or the literati is passionately exclaimed in one of his best known works “In my Craft or Sullen Art”:
“Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spendthrift pages…
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of ages
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or sullen art” (Thomas, 1996: 92)
This sense also pervades Under Milk Wood that was, after all, written for public radio broadcast. In our study we have looked at various manifestations of psychoanalytic theory in Thomas play and, through this, at various differing levels of poetic expression; from the use of personal unconscious symbolism via the dreamwork to the more universal sense of the collective unconscious.
As many biographers have pointed out (Sinclair, 1999; Stanford, 1954) perhaps the most seminal relationships in Thomas life was the relationship between him and his wife Caitlin. We can see, when we examine the various Freudian and Jungian notions of dream interpretation, that there are, amongst the characters of Under Milk Wood, personal expositions of this tempestuous and tortuous time. We see, in the characters of Polly Garter and others revisions and interpretations of Thomas attitudes towards women, on the one hand displaying a painful fascination, on the other a moral outrage.
Viewed through notions of the collective unconscious however, these personal leitmotifs become universal symbols of the dichotomy between man and woman and the images used reveal themselves as not so much specific to Thomas biography but projections of the collective unconscious. As I have already stated, many of the archetypes featured in Under Milk Wood, the Mother, the wise man and the shadow can be seen to be reflected in a host religious and canonical texts around the world.
It is this mixing of the personal with the universal that not only mirrors Jungian notions but characterises Thomas work, and especially Under Milk Wood, as Bardic. Marianne Elliott, in her study The Catholics of Ulster (2001) describes the importance of the bard to the Gaelic and Celtic tradition:
“(The Bards) real importance -with that of the other professional families -- was their linkage between past and future, their task, 'to spin the threads of lore' and to 'follow up the branches of kinship'. They were valued by their employers as genealogists, historians and preservers (sometimes creators) of princely lineages, and their poems were preserved by generations of the recipient family as proof of status.” (Elliott, 2001: 47)
In other words, the ancient Bards of the Celts weaved personal and national narratives into stories and poems that reflected both, just as Thomas attempts in Under Milk Wood. Freudian and Jungian systems of dream interpretation and notions of the collective unconscious enable us, as critics, to appreciate the very mechanisms that make this possible. What, after all, is Bardic poetry but the fusing of personal and communal mythologies?
Under Milk Wood, conceived in a largely secular society, has come to fulfill some of the role of the Bardic poem, as Andrew Lycett asserts in his article on Thomas commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of this death . The symbolism, heralding from the collective unconscious elevates the text from something more than personal expression. What we see in the very circular structure of Under Milk Wood, in its character construction and its plot framework is a clear instance of national pride and constancy with Thomas fusing a future out of the images from both his and his countrys past and present.
Of course, in this also, the poet reflects Freuds notions in the first text of his we looked at in this paper “Creative Writers and Daydreaming”. It was Freuds assertion that there was a three stage system to dreaming that involved the knitting together of the past and present in order to fulfill a wish for the future and what more obvious structure could we have for describing the structure, plot and national affiliation felt towards this most personal and most universal of plays.
This paper can be seen as merely a basis for future research that could, amongst other things include the paring of Thomas entire oeuvre with Freudian and Jungian research. It is only through such a large scale project that the true worth of psychoanalytic criticism can be judged. This would entail further investigation into Thomas biography and the influence this has on his work.
One could also make use of many of post-Freudian psychoanalytic notions such as Lacans mirror phase or das Ding to highlight the internal dynamics of Thomas poetry; an exercise that would prove extremely fruitful.
Appendix: The Dreams
Throughout the work of both Freud and Jung dreams are used to highlight the salient points of their arguments. The following exemplify some of the concepts used in this paper:
Condensation in Dreams:
In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud cites a number of examples of condensation in dreams including the famous “Dream of the Botanical Monograph”, in which Freud himself dreams that he has written a paper on an unspecified genus of plant:
“The lies before me. I am just turning over a folded coloured plate. A dried specimen of the plant is bound up in this copy as in a herbarium.” (Freud, 1997: 173)
Freud explains that here the working of the dreamwork has condensed a number of psychical elements together, including his sighting of a “monograph on the genus Cyclamen” in a bookshop window on the dream-day and a work he had already completed on cocaine as a medicinal pain reliever. Freud traces these condensed meanings back to a childhood memory of destroying a book, an activity that, of course, engenders horror and guilt in the adult.
Freud also gives us an example of condensation in his case study of Dora:
“A house was on fire. My father was standing beside my bed and woke me up. I dressed quickly. Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case; but Father said “I refuse to let myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case. We hurried downstairs, and as soon as I was outside I woke up.” (Freud, 1977: 104)
Freud here highlights the instance of condensation surrounding the image of the jewel-case that can, he asserts, be variously interpreted as symbolic of the children, the mothers genitals, the mothers sexuality, guilt etc.
Displacement in Dreams
Freud famously explores displacement in his analysis of the Wolf Man, in which the patient displaces images of copulating dogs with the primal scene between his parents. Freud is never certain as to the true nature of the Wolf Mans dream, intermingled as it is with reality, however he does assert that displacement is at the root of the patients castration fears (Freud, 1979: 292).
Representation in Dreams
Freud cites many instances of representation in dreams throughout his work, in The Interpretation of Dreams he cites the “Dream of a Chemist” concerning a young man who was endeavoring to give up his habit of masturbation in favour of sexual relations with women. This absurd dream consisted of the dreamer imagining himself as a mixture of phenyl-magnesium-bromide. In the dream he felt his feet, legs and knees dissolving and thought to himself “This is all right, things are working, my feet are getting soft.” However, further into the dream, after pulling his legs out of the vessel he suddenly realized that it wasnt right and awoke.
Freud interprets this dream as a combination of influences culminating in the symbolic representation of the wish not to venture out and meet a young woman he was seeing. The desire to stay at home manifested itself in the dream in a pictorial form, with the young man literally losing his ability to walk and meet the woman he wished to avoid.
In another interpretation Freud cites the dream of a young woman suffering from agoraphobia:
“I was walking in the street in the summer, wearing a straw hat of a particular shape; its middle piece of which is bent upwards while the side-pieces hung downwards (here the descriptions hesitates), and in such a fashion that one hangs lower than the other. I am cheerful and in a confident mood; and, as I pass a number of young officers, I think to myself “You cant do anything to me” (Freud, 2000: 239)
Freud sees this as a sexual dream, the dreamers hat representing the male sexual organs. He continues to assert that the dream per se concerns the dreamers repressed fantasies about seduction; the male officers in the dream vie for her attention in spite of her possessing the organs of her husband (in the symbolic form of her hat).
Personal Symbolism in Dreams
Jung is as concerned with using actual dreams as pointers to his psychology as Freud. In his book Man and His Symbols he cites a dream of his own that illustrates not only his notions about the unconscious, personal symbolism in dreams but also how his theory and method differs from Freuds:
“I had a dream when I was working with Freud…I dreamed that I was in my home, apparently on the first floor, in a cozy, pleasant sitting room furnished in the manner of the 18th century. I was astonished that I had never seen this room before…” (Jung, 1964: 42) Jung continues to describe how, in this dream, he ventured to the lower floors “consisting of large slabs of stone and…walls (that) seemed very ancient” (Jung,1964: 42),
until he encountered a prehistoric tomb where he found two skulls, some bones and broken shards of pottery. Unlike Freud who, using notions of the dreamwork, might trace the multiple meanings of this dream uncovering layer upon layer of repression and neurosis, Jung interprets the images and symbols as representing key moments in his life; from his early childhood, spent in “a house 200 years old” to his interest in antiquities and prehistoric artifacts. Jung does not use his dream sources as a base with which to trace a distant repression but as maps to the meanings of his unconscious.
The Collective Unconscious in Dreams
Of course, Jungs notion that the images we experience in dreams are direct manifestations of the unconscious extends into the realm of the collective. Jung asserts many times that the archetypes we have looked at in this paper such as the anima and the shadow appear time and time again in our dreams.
Jung observed the dreams of psychotic patients resembled the “big dreams” of primitive peoples that, devoid of personal biography, featured many images and motifs of mythology.
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