The Hunchback in the Park | Dylan Thomas

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‘The Hunchback in the Park’ symbolises human isolation, specifically human isolation contrived through the ostracising and denouncement of a hunchback, for reasons relating to both his physical deformity and social destitution. Thomas is keen on producing poetry that looks back to his childhood, and the ‘Hunchback’ is another such example, where the person who is a hunchback is perceived from a third-person omniscient view with the directorial lens of someone watching him – possibly one of children who playfully tease him.

The tone of Thomas’ poem hinges on despair and loneliness, with the first stanza introducing the hunchback through his given nickname, ‘the hunchback in the park’ and then adds the adjective of ‘solitary’ which levers him down as someone completely disparate and withdrawn from society. This lonely life is accentuated by connotations in the words ‘sombre’ and ‘dark’, which evokes the sense of emptiness, that is emptiness from isolation and darkness. Thomas’s diction is so intricate and embroidered with symbolisation where, in the second stanza, the hunchback eats from newspapers that are discarded. This represents a form of social deformity, where he can only eat from the stale things and does not have access to reality. There is also the repetition of the word ‘chained’ which highlights its denotative meaning of restriction where the hunchback has to drink water from a cup that was chained to a water fountain so that it is not stolen, and Thomas uses a pun in him not being chained up. Thus, the hunchback might have physical and societal deformities, but he was still free.

The third stanza follows a sense of zoomorphism where Thomas uses a simile to characterise the hunchback as an early riser, like the park birds and then sits as a still as water. Here, Thomas also introduces the children who taunt him, but it is a taunting of childish playfulness and mischievousness where they call out to him and then run away. These children are presented in a dual manner, where they are named truants, which promptly analogises them with mischief but they seem to be the only ones who communicate with this solitary being, even if it is a monosyllabic word and is devoid of true interest.

Thomas also sketches the different ways of life that take place all around the hunchback, from the nurses with the babies that come into the park with the group of truants who mock his deformity and sprint away from him with the vivacity of tigers – this mere metaphor also depicts a contrast in which the children act as predators, teasing and taunting the hunchback, whose physical deformity weakens him, both in strength and in his societal position like a meek prey. But, Thomas does not describe the park extensively, rather concentrates primarily on the hunchback and the people around him, which separates and focuses the poem on these two factors, but mainly on the hunchback. This also helps Thomas to present the creative mind of the hunchback who, in his loneliness, imagines a woman for his companion – someone who is beautiful and does not possess any deformity of any kind; someone who stays with him even when the park is locked and there are no more people except for him. This craving of company and assurance of beauty within that company is what symbolises the hunchback as a frustrated artist; an artist who cannot be comprehended by life and this constraint in imagination fostered by life and society can also be seen in the kennel which is a virtual symbolisation of constriction. The hunchback wants the beauty and unity but that is only in his imagination – he cannot have that in reality and that frustrates and constricts him.

The poem can also be interpreted as a contrast between life and death, and the process to achieving eternity and the struggle that precedes it. It is about the incapability of people to see you in something different than the physical being and the resilient mockery they hit you with because you cannot express yourself properly to them, symbolising the handicap within the handicap. People see you in the way they want to see you, but they do not understand the struggle of the frustrated artist. And still, we want to hold on to life, and this is represented through the symbolist devices of the water and bread which signifies life. But, in death, we find companionship and perfection and that is visualised through the woman. Thus, Thomas’ poem can also be likened to a poem about life and heaving through the difficulties in life before finding peace in death.

The Hunchback in the Park is about melancholia and loneliness. It is also about the feeling of isolation and the discontentment in the external life that we start looking for beauty and satisfaction in the other life, that is virtualised in the mind and presented in death. The poem revolves around the sorrow of one deformed person, a loner amidst the swans in life, that the poet had seen as a child, and this Thomas heightens to reveal a marvellous contrast between outward cruelty and hurt to the inward beauty and peace.

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