The Portable Phonograph


 Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Walter Van Tilburg Clark's short story, "The Portable
Phonograph", is a tale about the last survivors in the
world after the total destruction of a war. The author
gives clues and hints of this throughout the beginning by
writing in a narrative voice and describing the scene in
dark war-like terms. The characters are then introduced as
a group of men huddled around a fire. The older of the men,
Doctor Jenkins, is the leader and his character is full of
personality that can be analyzed by the reader. He is the
owner of the shelter that they meet in. This paper will
point out the different aspects of the old man in this
story and state conclusions that can be drawn from them. 

The men in this story are obviously amused by the slightest
little things. They occupy themselves through book readings
from a collection that one man has. Each of the men
contributes to the group and together they endure a time of
devastation by entertaining each other. The older man has a
record player that he brings out once a week for the
listening pleasure of the group. He is very proud of this
treasure. It has sustained hard times just as he has and he
limits his use of it to make it last. He owns only three
steel needles and he gets one out to use because on this
particular occasion, there is a musician visitor with them.
The other men act as excited as children. They listen to
the record and then leave the doctor's house. 

Doctor Jenkins is nervous and suspicious at the end of the
story when the other men leave. "With nervous hands he
lowered the piece of canvas which served as his door, and
pegged it at the bottom. Then quickly quietly, looking at
the piece of canvas frequently, he slipped the records in
the case..." (Clark, page 241). He feels that "everything
he has" is at risk because of greed that hard times like
these could produce in the other men. He is secure and
comfortable with the things that he has and he doesn't
trust the others. He then hides his treasures away in a
safe place after they leave. As he gets into his bed he
feels the "comfortable piece of lead pipe" with his hand.
The doctor has no problem resorting to violence and that
actually makes him feel more comfortable. The greed that
the doctor sees in the others is a reflection of the
feelings and thoughts that he himself has. His views are
distorted and he sees himself in the men. He invites them
back every week, it seems, so it is quite possible that his
possessions do not make him as happy as the company he
receives every week. 

The contrast between the happiness that the men get from
his musical device and the lack of fulfillment this
provides for him is interesting. In the world that this
story describes, the reader expects the doctor to be happy
with all that he has. As the story unfolds, you gain an
understanding of the feelings behind his possessions.
Doctor Jenkins is a normal character and his feelings are
presented in a real manner. The reader can conclude that
his personality is not unlike anyone else. What he sees is
influenced by the way he is and how he feels. He views
things in a way that ultimately makes his feelings of
suspicion and greed stronger, therefore never breaking the
cycle of how he judges those around him. 


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