How many Thomases had Dylan? There were several, but all were linked by acquired impiety. First was the child who was father of the man: the child of The Peaches with the demon-haunted imagination, cribbed in the domesticated fussiness of the Victorian parlor, reveling in the slops of the pig-sty, frightened by drunken Uncle Jim, solaced by Annie, impressed by evangelistic Gwilym, forsaken by his rich friend Jack.*
The child's sense of aloneness in an alien world of adults pervades the story. He sits in a cart in a dangerous street while his uncle drinks in company inside the tavern; he dreams in the "warm, safe island" of his bed while all Swansea flows and rolls outside the house; he thinks that he "had been walking long, damp passages all [his] life, and climbing stairs in the dark, alone"; because of his Uncle's temper, he loses the companionship of a friend; he turns away even from the entrancing Gwilym when the latter in his religiosity pries. Only Annie's loving warmth welcomes him into a community of souls:
One minute I was small and cold, skulking dead-scared down a black passage in my stiff, best suit, with my hollow belly thumping and my heart like a time bomb, clutching my grammar school cap, unfamiliar to myself, a snub-nosed story-teller lost in his own adventures and longing to be home; the next I was a royal nephew in smart town clothes, embraced and welcomed, standing in the snug centre of my stories and listening to the clock announcing me.
The tyranny of the Uncle; of a religion whose basic commandment is "Prepare to Meet thy God"; of a God who can "see and spy and watch us all the time . . . in the terrible shadows, pitch black, pitch black . . ."; of a preacher who insists on public confession "of the worst thing you've done"; of the respectability which shamed Annie, who wore her best black dress (smelling of mothballs) but had forgotten to change out of her gym shoes: such tyranny Thomas fought or mocked the rest of his life. And he needed and sought for the rest of his life the warmth and light of Annie's arms and Annie's kitchen.
The story is built on a series of contrasts: the obvious ones of light and dark, warm and cold, big and small, inside and outside, rich and poor; and more subtle ones, -- the child's grasp of fact and his escape in imagination from it; the declension of the abstract to the concrete (God's____________________