‘Extraordinary Little Cough’ by Dylan Thomas

Extraordinary Little Cough by Dylan Thomas, 1940

The magic trick:

Showing how an unlikely hero transcends social categorization

These Dylan Thomas stories are exhausting. Every sentence seems to contain multitudes, and their ideas and images and hinted upon backstories tumble down relentlessly one after the other.

The effect, of course, also is exhilarating.

Perhaps in response to that form of storytelling, our narrator frequently pauses to give the reader (and perhaps himself) the lay of the land. He categorizes he and his friends. He categorizes the girls they meet on the beach. He pairs people off based on what he has decided is appropriate.

So many social structures. So much pressure. So much expectation.

It’s interesting then to see that the character that we perceive to be at the bottom of the story’s social structure winds up being the one who transcends categorization.

And that’s quite a trick on Thomas’s part.

The selection:

Leading down from the gate, there was a lane to the first beach. It was high tide, and we heard the sea dashing. Four boys on a roof – one tall, dark, regular-featured, precise of speech, in a good suit, a boy of the world; one squat, ungainly, red-haired, his red wrists fighting out of short, frayed sleeves; one heavily spectacled, small-paunched, with indoor shoulders and feet in always unlaced boots wanting to go different ways; one small, thin, indecisively active, quick to get dirty, curly – saw their field in front of them, a fortnight’s new home that had thick, pricking hedges for walls, the sea for a front garden, a green gutter for a lavatory, and a wind-struck tree in the very middle.

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