Blindness, dreams and death

1 Jun

I found Captain Cat from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood particularly interesting because he is the audience’s relatable character due to the fact that like the listener he is blind. He like the listener constructs the world of Milk Wood through sound and descriptions acting as a guide (blind guiding the blind). By listening to both the action of the village around us as well as his descriptions we are able to move through space in an interesting way. For example page 42-48 when Willy Nilly is delivering the mail, Captain Cat guides us through the mailman’s route creating a kind of map in the listener’s mind’s eye.

“First Voice: Captain Cat hears Willy Nilly’s feet on the distant cobbles.

Captain Cat: One, two, three, four, five… That’s Mrs Rose Cottage. What’s to-day? To-day she gets the letter from her sister in Gorslas…” (45)

            This is but one example of the many in this scene where footstep are then followed by Captain Cat’s descriptions (or perhaps a better word is narration) of who, what and where which helps the listener not only understand what is happening but also where it is happening. Captain Cat acts a lot like the disembodied First Voice and Second Voice. Like these narrative voices that are located outside of the village realm Captain Cat is also a kind of outsider.  He has no family, he is blind, he appears to live alone, he is an integrated but still separate component of the community. And for the listeners he is narrator and also one that helps map out and orient oneself to this unseen world.

            Also linked with darkness, night, dreaming and blindness is the otherworld of the dead which this radio play braids in with the reality of the living and the world of dreams to create a whole. Captain Cat seemed to have the strongest link to the dead or at least has greatest number of  visiting ghosts which come to him through his dreams and memories. In the very beginning he is visited by all his drowned crewmates from the past. They recount to the captain their demise and also ask about the present, about their loved ones.

“Fifth Drown: And who brings coconuts and shawls and parrots to my Gwen now?

First Drowned: How’s it above?

Second Drowned: Is there rum and lavabread?

Third Drown: Bosoms and robins?” (5)

They are painful reminders of the past and how time moves ever onward but at the same time they are present in the dreams, alive in a way and interacting with their lost future. In this way Under Milk Wood plays with time, blending the past and present. It plays with the idea of death and dreams as a kind of death, a way to transport to that quiet dead world and interact with lost companions. I thought the interaction between Captain Cat and Rosie Probert was particularly interesting because it highlights this plays interest in death, ghosts and memory. The interaction is bittersweet, recalling the lovers past but also reminding the Captain that he is all alone and Rosie, who is long dead, is forgetting that she ever existed.

The play is obsessed with memory, we get most our information about our characters lives and histories through memories and dreams of others. Dreams are like memories that allow people from the past, alive and dead, to interact with the dreamer.  The listener is granted access through these dream states to the histories of these individuals. All of these memories must be spoken and described to us by someone because, of course, this is a radio play which is supposed to be heard and not seen. As a result these surreal dream and memory accounts create a story that you must follow with your mind’s eye.


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