Mid-term Literary Analysis
The Simple Pleasures That Sustain Us
“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.”
~ Oscar Wilde
In a little small sea-town in Wales, there is a working-class community, that has had the most wonderful Christmases over the years. Each Christmas contributes memories that are locked in the minds of the residents of the town who find comfort as adults in reminiscing about the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes that uniquely belong to their childhood Christmases. In “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, Dylan Thomas captures how a grown man happily reminisces to his friend about his memories as a boy in this sea-town. What becomes clear through Thomas’ writing is that years later, the memories that have defined Christmas for this man, are not based on the materialistic things, but based on shared, sometimes funny, experiences and moments with friends, family and neighbors.
Thomas uses snow throughout his poem to show the passage of time and to emphasize that the special memories from childhood are based on simple, found in-nature, not store-purchased things. Thomas’ main character doesn’t remember the year of each of his childhood Christmas memories, but he does remember the snow that accompanied each fun memory. As he tries to remember past Christmases, the man “plunges (his) hand in the snow and bring out whatever (he) can find.” (p2) Every one of the memories from his childhood that the man shares with his companion include snow: snowballs thrown at cats, knocked over snowmen, snow-clogged side lanes, backyards full of snow, snowy footprints on pavement, snowballs in mailboxes for unexpecting postmen, and carols in snow-felted darkness. The man has a special connection to the snow and it comes to represent all of the fun he had with it. The pure white snow that wraps his village represents the fun that wraps his Christmas memories. Snow, is everywhere in this town and it isn’t just any snow as the man refers to it as “our snow”, which he is using to say “our memories”.
“Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.” (p3)
It is obvious from the way Thomas describes the snow that he is talking about more than snow, because snow doesn’t fall the way he has described it. But, through parallel structure, the author uses the repetition of snow to emphasize the importance of pure, white, simple snow and indirectly the importance of simple, experiences and moments. By repeating the snow, the author creates a pattern in the man’s childhood memories that he can look to later and connect the fun he had in the snow with the fun he had with friends and family.
To reinforce the concept of simple experiences, not materialistic things, defining Christmas, the author addresses the presents given and received in a way that shows that they are insignificant. The man is less focused on the presents than his companion, who keeps asking him to “get back to the presents” (p4) and not get lost in the memories. As the man reluctantly describes the presents they sound less than wonderful.
(the useful presents) “… engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like a silky gum that could be tug-o’-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o’-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes..bags of moist and many colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose…(the useless presents) and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow…” (p4)
The man divides the presents into two categories, the “useful” and the “useless”. However, both the “useful” and the “useless” presents are described with similarly negative adjectives and connotation. In addition, the fact that Thomas only allows two paragraphs of the poem to be about these materialistic things also shows the reader that the presents aren’t what makes up the man’s memories, it’s the moments that make the memories.
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” has no real plot and yet it has deep meaning. Thomas’ writing is entertaining, but it also has a message for the reader. Thomas leads the reader to see that meaningful Christmas memories are not based on things, but on moments. The message is subtle, but it’s there, and the reader is left to think about not only their own Christmases over the years, but what has created memories over their entire life.