The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl

Introduction to the story

The Sound Machine is a short, sharp and sinister story by Roald Dahl published in his collection “The Complete Short Stories” in 1949. It is about a scientist named Klausner and his obsession with sounds. The story tells us about the darker side of human nature. Here, a curious invention reveals a horrifying truth about plants.

The story revolves around an immature scientist who believed that beyond the audible decibels, there are subsonic as well as super subsonic sounds that human ears can’t hear. In his zeal to test his theory, he contrived a machine with which he wants to prove his theory. The immature scientist, Klausner by name, is experimenting on sound vibrations to study how the plants feel when they are cut. He asked Mrs Saunders to snip the stem of a plant. Later on, he himself finds the pain and vibrations as he strikes an axe on a tree. Now he is sure about his findings that he impresses upon his family physician Dr Scott to believe in his theory that plants feel pain when cut or struck. However, no one is interested in his strange belief.

Plot Summary
Klausner is a strange scientist who has contrived a machine. He wishes to test his theory of sounds in the belief that high vibration sounds can be audible to human ears with the help of mechanical device. Dr Scott – his physician visits him and shows interest in the machine. Scott believes in the viability of the theory. Klausner has fine belief that pains of plants can be heard if they are cut or injured. He gets the first scope to try to the idea.

One day to test his theory, he takes his machine out into the garden. He is rather mindful of the result. What if his theory is wrong or if it is true then what is next? These are the emotions that circle in his mind?

Mrs Saunders is his nearest neighbour. When Mrs Saunders cuts rose trees in her garden, Klausner gets a faint response from the rose plant. He hears in his headphone a frightful noise as if someone is shrieking. He goes up to her and tells her to cut another rose. She strikes another rose and Klausner hears the same piercing shriek again. He explains to her that when injured or hit, plants, being living things, experience pain.

After Mrs Saunders returns inside her home, Klausner continues his experiment, this time with the white daisies. He jabs a daisy out and hears a faint noise of crying. He repeats the process but this time he identifies that it is not a sound of agony, it is just a scream, a neutral, stony cry. It seems to be an emotionless note, may express some feeling people don’t know about. He also realizes that previously it was the same with the roses.

The very next day, he strikes his axe hard on a tree and his machine detected a cry from the tree. Klausner rings up his physician Dr Scott. All arrangements are made. The machine is ready. Klausner explains his theory. He now swings his axe at the tree to record the sound with his machine and make the Doctor hear it. But as the axe struck on the tree a huge branch falls on the machine and destroys the machine. Klausner’s hope of proving his theory is shattered.

Klausner asks the doctor what he has heard but Scott declares that since he was busy with his own safety he heard nothing. On Klausner’s request, the doctor puts some iodine on the cut of the tree where he has struck it and then they go back arm in arm. It is an intriguing story with an element of darkness which is so common in many adult stories.

Theme of the story
A scientist may look like an eccentric crazy fellow but his idea may change the course of thinking. That way an idea is very important to move the world on the path of advancement. In this story Klausner, seemingly, an immature scientist is a beast with sounds. He finally believes that human ears can be made to hear with the help of an appropriate machine the inaudible sounds such as subtle pain and cry of injured plants. Klausner studies this idea and learns the pain felt by the plant when a rose tree is cut. A similar cry is felt by him when his axe strikes the tree. There is another underlying theme in the story which states that only some kind persons have the hearts and minds to visualize or feel fanciful things like the pain of the plants. We find that neither Mrs Saunders not after Scott have the time and mind to feel the agony of the plants. Neither Mrs Saunders nor Dr Scott believed in words of Klausner and both of them represent the common worldly people who care little for fanciful ideas of the world be researched.

Summary of the story

Klausner developed a machine. On a warm summer evening, Klausner walked into a garden situated at the back of his house and locked himself into the shed of an unpainted room. There was a black box of three feet lying on a long bench with the littering of wires and cables and a few small tools and batteries. Klausner moved his fingers among all these in a feat of urgency as well as excitement and his concentration was rapt. Dr Scott arrives. When Klausner was fully concentrating over his machine in came Dr. Scott to check his sore throat. On seeing a prevailing tension all around the room and the strange box, he inquired what the box was all about. Klausner answered that he was working on his idea of sound and the machine would help him as he said I like sound.

Dr Scott showed some eagerness to know the Klausner’s idea who explained to him that his machine would successfully test his theory on the sound. Human ears can’t hear everything and there are very low pitched or very high-pitched sound which are beyond the audible capacity of humans. There are vibrations higher and higher above 5000 vibrations per sec sound up to infinity. Klausner believed that if humans are turned to hear such pitched voice they will go mad.

Klausner’s machine

Klausner told the doctor that he had made a simple machine to prove existence of many odd sounds beyond the audible limit of human ears. By tuning on his machine as if one read you he would be able to listen any subsonic or supersonic sound which the humans can’t hear in normal circumstances.

Klausner, at work
The doctor left Klausner wishing him good luck with his machine. Klausner carries this machine to the garden. He felt very excited but was not sure whether his device would work desirably or not. Putting on the earphones, Klausner started moving the knob of the device. He felt that his ears were stretching far into the ultrasonic region. The needle of his machine kept moving and suddenly, he heard a frightful shriek. Mrs Saunders cuts roses off her garden. Klausner connected his machine to Mrs Saunders. She was cutting yellow roses across the lawn of her garden. Klausner requested her to cut another rose plant. Though surprised she complied with the request of Klausner. The harmless gentleman once again heard a frightful shriek and he concluded that it was the cry of the plant. He wanted the lady to believe in his findings but she did not.

Klausner’s experiment on a beech tree

The very next morning Klausner collected an axe, went to the park across the road and hit the base of a beech tree. He heard a harsh note less low-pitched screaming sound appearing to be the wail of an injured tree. He regretted his actions in hurting the tree for his experiment. Dr Scott arrives. Without wasting any time Klausner called Dr Scott in spite of the that it was only 6:30 a.m. He wanted to show the result to the doctor and he was excited. Klausner disclosed to the doctor the result he had found. Upon hitting the headset as Klausner struck the tree once again. The doctor was concerned with his safety and did not concentrate on the earphones and the sounds there off. Klausner struck the tree hard with his axe and a big branch fell almost injuring them but they escaped unhurt. However, the Machine smashed. In the meantime, the doctor could not recognize any sound. Klausner paints at the injury of the tree. Klausner fell deeply pained at causing injury to the tree. He insisted the doctor apply some iodine on the wound of the plant and pay the tree another visit to see it. The doctor compiled.

Setting of the story

The setting of the story takes us to the back foot of the immature scientist’s house where we find him engrossed in building his device to test his idea about the audibility of ultrasonic sounds to human ears. Klausner works most of the time in the shed type in a room. He keeps his black box almost three feet long to the sides of child’s coffin. Only once the settings shift to the part where Klausner goes to experiment on a beach tree. A big branch falls off smashing the device altogether in the process.

Character of Klausner
Klausner’ss area of interest is sound and he is an immature scientist. He is depicted as a small free man, twitchy and nervous, so pale and thin that he looks like a bizarre bespectacled child. He has a large head with the hat on. He is always inclined to be leaning little left. His face is smooth and whitish with a pair of pale eyes peering through a pair of spectacles made of steel resin. His eyesight is unfocused and bewildered, dreamy, distracted. He keeps on scratching the pin of his ears while talking to Dr Scott. He is expected in the locality as a harmless but fantastic person. He moves his hand very fast but precisely. Klausner is obsessed with a caustic very much and he confesses to Dr Scott, I like sound. He has come out with the theory about sound. He believes that there are sounds low-pitched and high-pitched which a human ear can’t hear but with the help of electromechanical device such sounds can be made audible to human ears. He further believes that such sounds behind the audible range of human have subtle harmony and grinding discards. He has contrived a machine. His machine is intended to record sounds. Klausner conducts his experiment putting on headphones first on his neighbour cutting a rose tree and then himself hitting hard a beech tree with his hand axe. He is highly excited with the cry coming from a plant or a tree. He shares his newly found experience with his dear friend Dr Scott. His obsession makes him crazy. He seems to be urging to sheer madness. We find him interesting. He insists Mrs Saunders to cut another rose tree so that he can put his theory to test. Similarly, he insists upon Dr Scott to listen to the sound vibration and he strikes his axe on the tree and makes a gush. Klausner has a soft heart for plants and trees. He sincerely paints the trees to heel the wounds just to prove his theory. He believes that the tree must fell if left in immense agony. So, he asks his doctor friend to apply iodine on them. Such incident shows his affection as well as concern for plants. Klausner could not be conclusive with his experiment. He could not progress any further as a big branch fell on his machine and smashes the device. He and his doctor friend have a narrow escape. Klausner; the immature scientist appears to be an uncommon personality, full of peculiarity, craziness, obsessions for sound strange ideas and connections. On the other hand, he passes the tender heart, full of sympathy, of caring attitude even for plants.

Question and Answers

Q. Discuss the theme of the story.

Ans. Refer to the theme above.

Q. Write the Character Sketch of Klausner.

And. Discussed above.

Q. Give is the Setting of The Sound Machine.

Ans. Discussed above.


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