Analysis of "Holiday Memory" by Dylan Thomas
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Analysis of "Holiday Memory" by Dylan Thomas Some of Dylan Thomas' best-loved works are those pieces which evoke memories of his childhood. This is probably because every adult shares the common bond of experiencing childhood and owning personal memories which, although infinitely variable between us in their intensity and nature, help to form who we are as mature people. We all have our own sanitised nostalgia, wistful perhaps, sentimental certainly, so that when Thomas chronicles his own rose-coloured background, his work instantly strikes a chord within us all. Dylan Thomas mines this rich seam of his schoolboy and adolescent memories in many of his short stories and poetic works. Some of the most evocative of these recall his childhood holidays with relatives in Carmarthenshire. This is the case with "Holiday Memory", a joyous short story, also broadcast as a radio play, in which Thomas recalls an idyllic and raucous August Bank Holiday spent by the seaside. The story can be divided into two contrasting but complementary parts: the bright, riotous day spent on the beach, eating cockles, going for donkey rides and watching Punch and Judy shows, and the noisy, boisterous evening spent at the funfair. We will be concentrating on the second part of the story, and more specifically, we will be focusing on Thomas' extraordinary use of language and startling imagery, as well as on tone and mood, in his description of the funfair.
More unusual animal imagery is used to describe the wooden horses of the carousel. The day time horses are still and merely await the coming of night. The night time horses are "neighing", they jump "a thousand Beecher's Brooks" "easily and breezily" to a "haunting hunting tune", they are as fast and nimble as "hooved swallows". The contrast between the lifeless inactivity of the horses in the day, and the noisy, athletic and vibrant animals of the night is stark. In addition, we notice how Thomas keeps the threads of the hunting and bird imagery running through his description: the horses are like "hooved swallows", and they gallop to a hunting tune, he also uses assonance to describe the horses' athleticism, as they clear imaginary fences "easily and breezily". It is obvious, in conclusion, that Thomas employs language to indicate life, noise, speed and movement in his description of the fair by night, and appeals to the reader's every sense: things whizz and whirl, they weave and spin, are tipsy and dizzy, they neigh and croak. The fair by day is, by contrast, still and lifeless, scruffy and decaying. As the boys approach the fair from the beach, they are "scorched and gritty", (lines 21-22), a skilfully conjured image of sun-burnt and sand-encrusted children, who have made the most of their day on the beach.
Thomas reprises the image of the teeth at the end of his description of the old pug's activities, perhaps to show us that, although the man has been fighting all evening, he still has his three teeth left: a further indication of his toughness, as is the fact that he looks "bored" by his evening's work. The final two paragraphs (lines 57-66) describe the boys' last glimpse of the fair, and then their weary climb up the hill towards home. The first paragraph is full of noise and movement. It is almost as if Thomas saves his most chaotic and frenzied depiction of the fair for this moment, and this perhaps also reflects the feelings of the boys: their regret at having to leave all this fascinating activity. Thomas once more appeals to, and indeed overloads, the reader's senses in his description of the fair. There are references to movement: the night is "hot" and "bubbling", an indication of heat and pullulating activity; swing-boats swim "to and fro" and are "like slices of the moon"; a suggestion that they swing high into the sky, so as to perhaps cut across the moon; and "roundabout riders" gallop furiously. There are references to sound: the hurdy-gurdy with its music and the movement of the man cranking the handle; the mythical animals on the prow of the gondolas "breathing fire and Sousa" - another image that conveys heat and loud music; and the image of the riders giving their hunting cries and "hallooing" as they go round, creates another layer of clamour and bustle.
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