Dylan Thomas | English Literature Dissertations

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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.

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