“The Doctor & The Devils” ~ Dylan Thomas

Reasons why I read it–

  • Since, I was forced to teach “The Crucible” last November, I have taken to reading plays. I never enjoyed reading plays as a student because I felt that they were not intended to be read. They were written for a specific art that was not words on paper. So, I have been determined to find things that bring as much meaning through words as they do through action. I’ve run through “Death of a Salesman,” “Los Vendidos” and “Zoot Suit” with my students in the past four months. All brilliant.
  • I was wandering the LA Central Library when I came across a strangely bound volume written by Dylan Thomas.
  • Upon researching the tale, I was intrigued by the publisher notes that said Thomas was commissioned to write this particular story because it was believed that he was one of a few authors at the time who could spin prose in the form of a screenplay so beautifully that it would read as literature. (For the complete synopsis: BBC does a great job.)

Reasons I loved it–

  • The publisher’s notes are dead on (no pun intended). Thomas weaves a beautiful story through the guise of a screenplay (that never was transformed into its intended movie version) that lacks nothing as literature. His characters are chilling and the settings are beautifully spun into images in the mind.
  • The morality. He provides a strong commentary on class hierarchy and the distorted values and punishments that are assigned to classes in an attempt to maintain dignity and the status quo.
  • “Did I set myself up as a little god over death?
    Over death…
    All over…over…over…
    Did I set myself above pity?
    Oh, my God, I knew what I was doing!”
    Much of the commentary I read spoke of Thomas’ unnatural (natural?) obsession with death. I think one of the biggest struggles of humankind is to understand our inability to exert power over death. Through science, we prolong life and ward off death longer than any time in human history, and we take pride in that. I marvel at the advances in quality of life and am certainly grateful that I live in a time where the average lifespan is 70+ years instead of 20+ years. But the line that was most striking to me in Rock’s (the main character) final soliloquy was “Did I set myself above pity?” I think we do a great disservice to ourselves and to humanity when we do not honor death–death in the most technical of ways but also in the way we shed the ugliness of ourselves and become reborn in life. We must embrace that pity and sadness that is death in order to live in happiness and joy. This commentary is even stronger in that the death in “Doctor” comes at the hands of the poor who are trying to feed themselves. While at the physical hands of Fallon and Broom who are trying to maintain their own livelihood, it is in the indirect condoning of Rock that livelihood is given permanence. It is almost as though for some to live others must die. Which raised the question: At what cost?

(Originally titled “Reasons I hated it–” but after writing the two reasons, I realized that these are just more reasons the story works.)

  • Violence. Violence in a way that only words can project. Once the reader becomes engaged in the story and it becomes apparent exactly what is going on, Thomas spares no words in his graphic descriptions of the results.
  • Elizabeth and Annabella. Their roles (as Rock’s wife and sister) are minimal, leaving the reader to guess how much they knew and when, which I suppose in itself is its own commentary. It made me think about all the things that we know about that create death in our world, when we know about them, and why we do nothing.
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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Blogging 2010 in Review « All Along the Watchtower

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