You are on page 1of 40

Dylan Thomas

What does a hunchback suggest to you?

Do you think of Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame? Do you think of deformity? Or handicap? Do you think that the man has a scoliosis and it is a shame that he could not have an operation to rectify it? Do you feel pity? Empathy? Sympathy? Revulsion? What do you think Thomas wanted you to feel? Why does he place the hunchback in a park do you think? Is it to provide a contrast with the unnatural and the natural? Or are both natural do you think?

What

does it make you think about? What images stand out on your first reading? What do you notice about the form and structure of the poem? Make notes on your first impressions.

The hunchback in the park A solitary mister Propped between trees and water From the opening of the garden lock That lets the trees and water enter Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark

Eating bread from a newspaper Drinking water from the chained cup That the children filled with gravel In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship Slept at night in a dog kennel But nobody chained him up.

Like the park birds he came early Like the water he sat down And Mister they called Hey Mister The truant boys from the town Running when he had heard them clearly On out of sound

Past lake and rockery Laughing when he shook his paper Hunchbacked in mockery Through the loud zoo of the willow groves Dodging the park keeper With his stick that picked up leaves.

And the old dog sleeper Alone between nurses and swans While the boys among willows Made the tigers jump out of their eyes To roar on the rockery stones And the groves were blue with sailors

Made all day until bell time A woman figure without fault Straight as a young elm Straight and tall from his crooked bones That she might stand in the night After the locks and chains

All night in the unmade park After the railings and shrubberies The birds the grass the trees the lake
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries

Had followed the hunchback To his kennel in the dark.

What does it make you think about? What images stand out on your first reading? What do you notice about the form and structure of the poem? Class discuss what the poem made them think about. Ideas of childhood? The cruelty of youth? Bullying? Loneliness? The joy of running free in nature? Alienation? An artist or craftsman? Fear? Freedom and imprisonment?

A solitary mister (line 2) Alone between nurses and swans (line 26)

What do these lines suggest about the hunchback?

What words in particular in these lines say something about the hunchback? Look at the words solitary and alone and think about how these show the hunchbacks isolation from the rest of society. His disability marks him out as different and he appears an outcaste amongst his fellow men. Look at the word mister. What does this word suggest? Where is it used again and by whom? Line 15 And Mister they called Hey Mister. Does the word mister suggest respect or something else? What do you think?

These are lines 4 and 5 of the poem.

Look in particular at the way in which Thomas plays with the idea of a lock. What types of lock are there and what is Thomas saying in these lines?

Thomas plays with the idea of a lock in these lines. He uses lock in the sense of lock and key as the park is locked after the bell has been rung for the night. Thomas also uses lock in the sense of a canal lock which lets water in and out to allow barges to move up and down the canal freely. His image is highly imaginative as it suggests that the park only starts to start when the lock is opened as the trees and water enter like players on to a stage.

Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark What is the effect of the alliterative s sound in line 6 of the poem? What kind of feeling does it give this part of the poem and why?

The alliteration of the s sound emphasises the sadness that it is the end of the day as the hunchback lives here from the time the park opens until it closes. The parks closure means he becomes homeless. The alliterative s sound is also reminiscent of the sound of a deep resonant bell sounding bringing the sound to life in the poem.

Food? Water? Sleep and shelter?

Look in stanza 2 and see what the hunchback eats, drinks and where he sleeps and finds his shelter. What does this show about him as a character in the poem?

Thomas emphasises the three basic essentials for life by placing the verbs Eating, Drinking and Slept at the beginning of the lines in Stanza 2. The nouns he places after these verbs are the shocking ones as the hunchback only has bread and water to sustain him (these can only be described as the most basic of rations). Also he sleeps in a dog kennel. This shows that the hunchback has a fairly hand to mouth existence and appears little more than an animal; one step up from a dog.

Look at the alliteration of the words chained cup. Why do you think Thomas emphasised these words in this way?

The alliteration draws the readers attention to the fact that the hunchback does not own his own cup. He does not own a plate as he eats his bread from newspaper. The mans poverty is highlighted by the alliteration. The man is so poor that he has to drink from a fountain where the narrator (the I of the poem) sailed [his] ship. This shows the poor man has literally and metaphorically stooped low as he is reduced to drinking from a fountain; he does not have access to a tap. The alliteration also draws attention to the word chained as poverty can feel in a sense like imprisonment as you do not have the freedom to go and do what you like as you cannot afford. The hunchback takes pleasure from being in the park because it enables him to enjoy something for free; the park is available to everyone. The word chained is also repeated again in the final line of the second stanza But nobody chained him up. We will look at this line next.

Thomas has indicated that the hunchback sleeps in a dog kennel. When a dog is in a kennel they are often chained up to stop them running away or attacking other animals. What is Thomas suggesting by stating, But nobody chained him up?

I find this line ambiguous. It is almost as though the narrator is suggesting that maybe the hunchback should have been chained up as far as his young self believed because he was weird and not normal; little more than an anumal. It could also suggest that nobody needed to chain the hunchback up because he was already chained by his poverty as his freedom was limited by what he could afford, or not afford to do.

Like the birds he came early Like the water he sat down
The early bird catches the worm is a saying and Thomas seems to be paraphrasing it in line 13. Why does the hunchback come early? Does water sit down? Why is this an unusual but effective image of the hunchback?

The hunchback comes early to the park because he enjoys the beauty of the park. He can prop himself up against a tree and look at the water where the swans swim. The natural beauty of the park is in contrast to the degradation of his sleeping accommodation the dog kennel. He comes early to get a good spot and to feel that he belongs there. When water sits on the ground it is often unwanted as it suggests flooding and puddles. The hunchback can be seen to be as natural as water sitting on the ground but as unwanted as flood water which makes this an effective simile in showing the hunchbacks alienation from the rest of society. He does not fit in and is not wanted.

What does the word truant mean? Why is it used as an adjective to describe the boys in the park? What does it suggest about what they are doing in the park and what their behaviour might be?

Definition: truant is a noun to describe a person who is absent without leave, especially from school. It can also be an adjective being or relating to a truant. Focus: What behaviour do you expect of someone who truants and why? Is the expectation of bad behaviour justified in this poem?

What does the word clearly suggest about the boys motivation for shouting at the hunchback? The 18th line On out of sound is the shortest in the poem. It has only four syllable unlike the other lines which vary between 7 and 11. What is the effect of this short line in terms of the sense of the poem?

Clearly suggests that the boys wanted the hunchback to hear their taunts and they did not run away until they were sure he had heard them. It is an act of bravado on the boys parts. They want to appear brave calling the hunchback names but darent stay to face the consequences, instead running away. The 18th line uses an interesting image. The boys run out of sound instead of out of sight. This could suggest that they run far enough away so the hunchbacks response is not audible or they run away until the sound of their feet can no longer be heard. Or they run still calling taunts until they have gone so far that they are no longer audible. Any of these meanings can be taken from the poem. The line ends abruptly after 4 syllables, the line runs out of sound paralleling the words.

Laughing when he shook his paper Hunchbacked in mockery


Do you think the boys laughing and aping the hunchback is funny? Or do you feel sorry for the hunchback as you think he is being victimised by these boys?

The boys copy the hunchbacks posture Hunchbacked in mockery-this suggests that they are acting cruelly as they are teasing him about something that he cannot alter and which is a disability. It harks back to the dark days when people with disabilities were taken round and viewed as circus freaks for peoples entertainment; today we are supposed to live in a more tolerant and accepting society, valuing people for who they are not what they are, but this behaviour suggests that survival of the fittest still reigns as a principle of life.

Do you think the boys are bullies, cowards or heroes? Find quotations to back up your statements.

Line 17 Line 23-24 Line 28-29

To the hunchback the boys are bullies. They victimise him, shouting taunts and aping his posture. In the final three lines there is a threat of violence when they follow him back to his kennel. With the park keeper they are cowards as they are scared of the stick with the spike he carries to pick up leaves and so they dodge him. They also run away rather than waiting to hear what the hunchback says or does after they have taunted him. In their imaginations the boys are heroes as their noise is enough to metaphorically scare the stone tiger statues so much that their eyes jump out.

What is the woman that the hunchback forms during his day in the park? Is she physical or metaphorical (a product of his imagination)? What does the woman represent for the hunchback? Look at the repetition of the word straight in lines 33 and 34 and their effect.

Thomas leaves it ambiguous whether the woman is a physical creation made from paper or wood or whether she is a product of the hunchbacks imagination. Whatever she is, physical or metaphorical, her creation takes from the opening to the closing of the park a day. In this there are echoes of the creation of Eve from Adams rib, in Genesis, book one of The Bible. The hunchback is shown to be lonely, the only one of his kind, as Adam was in the beginning when he only had animals, birds and fish for company. In Genesis God took one of Adams ribs and fashioned a woman, Eve, from it to create a companion for Adam. In the poem Thomas suggests that the hunchback acts in a god-like way by creating a woman from his crooked bones. She is straight as emphasised by the repetition of the word in this stanza. The hunchback longs to have a straight back and imagines her using a natural image as a young elm tree as elms are renowned for being very straight and upright. She alone is seen as perfect and can stand in the night after the locks and chains have been fitted to the park gates to keep people out (in direct opposition to the garden lock that lets things enter.).

If a tree falls in a wood does it make a sound if no-one is there to hear it? What do you think? How is this concept similar to the idea that Thomas uses in this poem:

All night in the unmade park?

After the railings and shrubberies The birds the grass the trees the lake And the wild boys innocent as strawberries Had followed the hunchback To his kennel in the dark.
Why do all these things follow the hunchback to his kennel? Do they literally or metaphorically follow him? Why does it matter which it is?

Thomas lists items and characters from the park which return with the hunchback to his kennel. The lack of punctuation suggests they follow in a stream of consciousness as things do in a dream or in random thoughts this suggests it is a metaphorical following. The hunchback remembers the things and the boys when he returns to his kennel. The punctuation leaves things ambiguous as there could be a more literal and sinister reading of the poem with the boys following then hunchback to his kennel to hurt him in the dark when no-one can see. Thomas uses the simile wild boys innocent as strawberries and this can be read in many ways. The boys are wild like strawberries. Wild strawberries are small and very sweet and this suggests that far from fearing the boys the hunchback actually relishes the human contact they provide him with. He appreciates that they are young, and the innocence of youth does not allow them to see what they do to him as bullying just as high spirits. However, an alternative reading could see strawberries as far from innocent. They are red the colour of danger.

If the boys follow the hunchback to his kennel what are they going to do to him? There is a threat of violence. There is also a sense that the narrator the I of the poem is not as innocent as the fact in the past he sailed a ship suggests as he knows that the boys follow the hunchback which suggests he was amongst them. The poem ends with the word dark and the reader is left unsure, in the dark, as to what we should take from this poem. Is it a childish looking back at a character well-known in the park the narrator frequented as a child? Is it an adult looking at the power of the imagination to create worlds out of words and experiences? Is it about feeling alienated and wanting to create a world where you can fit in and be normal? This is a poem where there are no real right or wrong answers as long as you can back your opinions up with relevant quotations. Additional task: Get young people to work in pairs working out where and what punctuation they would add to this poem to help aid its sense. Then as a class discuss what punctuation was added, why and what effect it has. Discuss why Dylan Thomas did not use such punctuation.