The Hunchback In The Park by Dylan Thomas

The Hunchback In The Park is ostensibly the story of an isolated, deformed man who lives in a park. It chronicles the cruelty that this man had to endure and makes a reader think about how they treat people and how their actions towards those who are different could make those people feel. Thomas does a superb job of creating sympathy for the poems eponymous “hero” and in doing so really makes the reader consider what life is like for the character and by extension others that are different in some way.

Dylan Thomas combines themes of childhood, adulthood, humanity, and nature. His words describe a scenario which causes the reader to ponder why human beings are the way we are, even as young children. He points out the tendency of children to make fun of those that are different, and the tendency of adults to avoid people with differences. He also uses the man with a hunchback to reveal how people can transcend societal values to be able to live above them. The man who lives alone is able to enjoy nature to to create a picture of something perfect. This suggests that perfection of the mind is more important than bodily perfection. The speaker in The Hunchback In The Park helps the readers to value human life because of the human mind and creativity rather than physical form. The Hunchback In The Park causes the readers to question their own feelings toward other human beings, toward nature, and toward their own minds.

 

Form and Tone

The Hunchback In The Park is a sombre, sad piece. It is presented in seven stanzas, all of which are equal in length, containing six lines each. Despite this highly organised structure the poem has a disjointed feel due to the long sentences. The poem is littered with enjambment lines and actually only has three full sentences in total. This is possibly to help emphasise the fact that on the face of it the Hunchback’s life is simple, but underneath what everybody sees there is a complex human being with a wealth of emotions that he struggles to deal with.

 

The Hunchback In The Park Analysis

First Stanza

Despite the poem, which you can read in full here, being ostensibly about the cruelty that the poems protagonist has to endure it is interesting how the narrator still refers to him as the hunchback. There are a wealth of partial end-rhymes in this stanza (water/enter, lock/dark). This helps with reading The Hunchback In The Park. The partial rhymes act as an alternative to punctuation. This device serves to represent how different the character is from the “norm”.

The Hunchback In The Park opens up with a description of the main object of this poem, the hunchback. He was “a solitary mister” and the title along with this stanza suggests that his deformity is the reason for his solitude. The speaker describes him as “propped between trees and water” in the park from the beginning until the end of the day. The reader can imagine only one reason for the man to spend his entire day in the park. He is clearly a homeless man, or jobless at the very least.

 

Second Stanza

The first two lines of this stanza evoke images of a prisoner this is not coincidental. The suggestion is that being different in the way that he is makes the hunchback feel like a hostage. This is followed up by commenting on how kids cruelly tease the man. Filling his drinking cup with gravel. The man is then described sleeping in a kennel. The suggestion being that he doesn’t even feel human due to his situation. This rapidly increases a readers sympathy for this character.

The descriptions in this stanza give further evidence that the hunchback is living in a state of poverty. He eats out of a newspaper and drinks out of a chained cup. This stanza also reveals the nature of those who antagonize this poor man in the park. The children had apparently filled his cup with gravel. The speaker then remembers his own childhood, noting that the speaker filled the cup in the very fountain in which the speaker once sailed his ship.

 

Third Stanza

Once again partial rhymes are used throughout to give an ad hoc punctuation. Thomas uses a classic tool, much used in the romantic era, by comparing the poems eponymous lead to the natural world he helps create a positive image of the hunchback. Examples of this are: describing his arrival at the park as bird-like and his sitting down like water. When he is addressed by truanting school kids the hunchback flees, he is clearly not comfortable with the way he is treated. This creates further sympathy as we see this person is clearly upset deeply by how he is treated.

This man seems to have a set schedule. He comes to the park early in the morning and he sits down by the water until he hears the cries of the “truant boys from town”. He runs from them to get out of hearing distance.

 

Fourth Stanza

Once again Thomas evokes the natural world as the hunchback attempts to escape his tormentors. It would appear that this character is mocked no matter what he does. It is clearly not just the local children that mock him and make his life difficult though as we see introduced here, the park keeper clearly does not like him being in the park. It does somewhat raise the question of why the hunchback visits the park if it causes him so much hardship.

The speaker reveals that the mocking boys treat the hunchback man more like an animal in a zoo than another human being. They laugh “when he shook his paper” and they walk around “hunchbacked in mockery”. The speaker refers to the park as the “loud zoo” to imply that way in which the boys are treating the hunchback. They continue to mock him, “dodging the park keeper” which is perhaps the park ranger or another person in authority who might put a stop to their teasing of the man.

 

Fifth Stanza

Here the real world and metaphorical mix together. The old dog-sleeper is a nickname for the hunchback himself who was compared to a dog in the second stanza. It is clear he has temporarily found refuge with the swans. Another nod to nature, perhaps to highlight that whilst the man may be different he is every bit as beautiful as the rest of the animals/plants. The boys are likened to tigers and this is undoubtedly to highlight their predatory nature whilst staying true to the natural-imagery.

The speaker reveals the man’s ability to transcend the jeering of the children. He sits alone while the boys “made the tigers jump out of their eyes”. Even in the midst of this, the hunchback is able to enjoy the swans and the stones and admire the sailors.

 

Sixth Stanza

The first line of this stanza effectively intimates that the hunchback has to endure these cruel games all day until the school day is done and the kids who have been truanting then have to depart. The hunchback then discovers a woman and compares her to himself. She is everything he is not. She is described as being without fault and straight and tall. This stanza suggests that the hunchback has a longing for a relationship with somebody like that “that she might stand in the night” suggests he wants companionship. He wants somebody to be in the park with him when the gates are closed at the night. The fact that this is unlikely is an example of dramatic irony and just adds to the sadness of the stanza.

This stanza reveals what the hunchback man is doing while he endures the scoffing of the children. He is making “a woman figure without fault”. This reveals that the man is an artist, and though he has a deformed figure and lives in solitude, he has a mind able to create a beautiful piece of artwork that stands in direct opposition to his own body. While he is hunched over, she is “straight and tall” and while he leaves the park to sleep in a kennel, she stays there even after the park has been locked up. Perhaps he is carving the image into a tree or some other part of nature that would naturally stay in the park. It is unlikely that he would have artists materials, as the speaker has already implied that he is homeless. Whatever the case, he has created a beautiful piece of artwork that does not have to leave the park when it closes.

 

Seventh Stanza

The hunchback continues his longing, but reflects on the days events. How it is a mix of the beauty of the park with it’s shrubs, trees, lakes etc. and the “wild boys”. It is clear that the people of the park ruin a place of beauty for the hunchback. Why he continues to frequent the park is left ambiguous. Perhaps he stays within the park because it has a beauty that he cannot find within himself?

It is clear he is considered by most of the other characters in The Hunchback In The Park to be subhuman. There are no less than three allusions to him being dog-like. Plus when he is talked about, he is referred to as “mister”, as if he is not deemed worthy of having a proper name. This all adds to the tragic nature of the hunchback’s predicament, presumably homeless, would he have anywhere else to go other than the park?

This stanza of The Hunchback In The Park reveals that the picture of the beautiful woman represents something that the speaker longs for. Perhaps he longs to stay all night in the beautiful park rather than returning to his “kennel” to sleep. Perhaps he longs to have the straight and slender body he has portrayed in her picture. Perhaps he wishes to have for himself a woman like the one he has created. The speaker does not reveal exactly why he has made this picture, but he has revealed that the picture remains in the park even when the hunchback has to return “to his kennel in the dark” with “the wild boys” following him. The fact that the speaker describes these boys as “innocent as strawberries” in this stanza reveals something about his beliefs about human nature. The boys have already been described as jeering and scoffing at a poor old man. They are hardly innocent. However, the speaker seems to imply that because they are only young boys, they don’t know any better, and the tendency to scoff at people with differences is a part of human nature that must be overcome with maturity.

 

About Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas was a Maverick and very famous Welsh Poet. He died tragically young in 1953, aged just thirty nine, due to his abuse of alcohol. He wrote exclusively  in English despite his parents both being fluent Welsh speakers and in spite of this he is still considered to be one of Wales’ greatest poets.

Dylan Thomas is described as “a neurotic, sickly child who shied away from school and preferred reading on his own” (poets.org). It is easy to see how Thomas would relate with the both the hunchback and the speaker in The Hunchback In The Park. He seemed to observe people more than engage with them. Thomas uses the boys, the hunchback, and the portrait of the woman to explore themes of humanity, creativity, and nature in The Hunchback In The Park.

Works Cited:

  • Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.
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  • Avatar Sarah says:

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