One of Dali's hallucinatory obsessions was the legend of William Tell, which represented for him the archetypal theme of paternal assault. The subject occurs frequently in his paintings from 1929, when he entered into a liaison with Gala Eluard, his future wife, against his father’s wishes. Dalí felt an acute sense of rejection during the early 1930s because of his father’s attitude toward him.
Here, father, son, and perhaps mother seem to be fused in the grotesque dream-image of the hermaphroditic creature at center. William Tell’s apple is replaced by a loaf of bread, with attendant castration Symbolism. (Elsewhere Dalí uses a lamb chop to suggest his father’s cannibalistic impulses.) Out of the bread arises a lugubrious cloud vision inspired by the imagery of Arnold Böcklin. In one of the recesses of this cloud is an enigmatic inscription in French: “Consigne: gâcher l’ardoise totale?”
The repressed, guilty desire of the central figure is indicated by its attitude of both protestation and arousal toward the forbidden flower-headed woman (presumably Gala). The shadow darkening the scene is cast by an object outside the picture and may represent the father’s threatening presence, or a more general prescience of doom, the advance of age, or the extinction of life.