The Poem “The Dentist and the Crocodile” by Roald Dahl
The theme of fear is often presented in literature and philosophy through various concepts, including existential experiences, questions of death, and the finiteness of being. Many authors are very interested in the topic of fear, as it is also strongly related to aspects of the corporeality. People lose their minds from fear, faint, and can also get substantial health problems, even fatal consequences. Wonder poets develop the theme of fear in the hope of demonstrating the course of this state in time and the outcome of this fear. They draw the possible causes and individuality of the perception of stressful situations, such as a threat to life or the death of loved ones. Separately, fear arises as a social phenomenon when a person is afraid of condemnation and isolation from people, as, for example, happens in situations with bullying. Teenagers sometimes isolate victims of bullying from society, scare them, and put pressure on them. In “The Dentist and the Crocodile”, R. Dahl demonstrates in an elegant form the fear of condemnation and the fear of the unknown task that adolescents often experience, coupled with peer pressure.
Under the pressure of the Crocodile, the Dentist is under severe pressure; however, realizing that he cannot resist him, the Dentist is stricken with fear. For example, “The dentist shrieked and started climbing up the wall” (Dahl 19). A complicated task has been set before the Dentist, which he must complete under the close supervision of the Crocodile. The Crocodile, in turn, like the society that puts pressure on people, only teases him and is content with his position. Another example: “He quivered, quaked and shook,”; and he, too, shows at the beginning of the poem the stunned reaction of the Dentist (Dahl 3). The community is always aware of its greatness in front of its members, especially if they are teenagers. Here comes the fear that it is not society that needs a person but a person in the community. Therefore, a person is inclined to act, suffering from peer pressure, against his will. (Morin). Thus, the fear described by R. Dahl is not existential; it is deeply social because it is caused by a collision with requirements that metaphorically depict social norms.
A society can insist for a long time, trying to subdue its members, using manipulation. However, sometimes there is no need for manipulation, and peers, exert pressure, only repeating and forcing a person to take specific actions. The Crocodile insists: “I said to do the back ones first!”; the Dentist is obliged to cure the back teeth first, even if for this you have to climb deep into the mouth (Dahl 11). Peer pressure is like a petulant child or pet who can only demand action without argument. At the same time, the Dentist’s fear does not leave him: “He cried, “No, no! I see them all extremely well from here!” (Dahl 16). Peer pressure drives people out of their comfort zone, no matter the cost. Sometimes teenagers go to the deception not to do it, as the Dentist does. It shows, therefore, through the metaphor of the jaw, exactly how people can be afraid to take risks and not put up with them.
The poem ends with an important revelation: what is a fear for some may be a game and a trifle for others. Near the end of the poem are the lines, “Just then, in burst a lady, in her hands a golden chain. // She cried, “Oh Croc, you naughty boy, you’re playing tricks again!” (Dahl 18-19). Human subjectivity in this situation is an important aspect of eliminating the influence of peer pressure. The poem demonstrates that people can change their attitude towards peer pressure and turn it into a game or easy communication. It is what the lady who considers the Crocodile her pet does. She can punish him and scold him; she can laugh at him. For example, “Don’t be a twit,” the lady said and flashed a gorgeous smile. // “He’s harmless. He’s my little pet, my lovely Crocodile.” (Dahl 21-22). The sweet lady allows the Dentist to look at the cause of his fear from a different, new side.
Thus, the Dentist who has undergone an act of severe pressure, which has aroused in him intense fears, can see how a different subjectivity relates to the source of this pressure. Often, peer pressure turns out to be from scratch and is intended only to make a person afraid of himself for no apparent reason. It is crucial to look at the pressure situation from different angles and subjectivities.
The considered poem, thus, through metaphors, shows how much a person can experience fear of peer pressure. The Crocodile, being a metaphor for the community, behaves capriciously and is very demanding. The Dentist cannot resist him but wants to run away in fear. The fear that Dentist feels is far from existential fear but is concentrated exclusively on the social moment. At this time, the lady who appears towards the poem’s end shows a different subjectivity in the struggle against peer pressure. She demonstrates playfulness and self-confidence by referring to the Crocodile as her cute pet. It is the key to resisting peer pressure, allowing people to be themselves and leave their views.
Dahl, Roald. “The Dentist and the Crocodile.” Poetry Foundation, 1989.
Morin, Amy. “The Surprising Connection Between Peer Pressure and Bullying.” Verywell Family, 2020.