The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl

In The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl we have the theme of obsession, instability, fear and dedication. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Dahl may be exploring the theme of obsession. Klausner spends his entire time with his sound machine. What first starts out as an innocent experiment that excites Klausner becomes something which Klausner obsesses over. It is also interesting that Mrs Saunders is at a loss when it comes to what Klausner might be doing and if anything she begins to feel afraid. This may be important as it highlights the distance that exists between Mrs Saunders and Klausner. Ironically they are next door neighbours but would not be similar or close when it comes to their lifestyles. Klausner has an unusual lifestyle in which his life appears to be dedicated to the sound machine. At no stage in the story does Dahl give the reader an insight into any other activity that Klausner might participate in. Something which is clearly unhealthy for an individual. To be so focused on one thing and not allowing themselves the opportunity to explore other ventures in order to create a balance in life.

If anything Klausner may be mentally unstable. It is as though he is so preoccupied with the sound machine that he has no time for either people or other things. It is also possible that Klausner has a heightened sense of hearing. This may explain as to why the doctor does not hear the cries from the tree when Klausner strikes it with an axe for a second time. The fact that Dahl uses plant life and suggests that plant life has the ability to feel may be important as Dahl could be placing a symbolic spotlight on environmental issues. Perhaps Dahl is suggesting that not enough care is given to the environment. A stance that would not have been common at the time the story was written (1949). It might also be a case that Dahl is also highlighting how socially detached from society Klausner is. There is no mention of Klausner having any friends in the story and the only person who knows him well is Dr Scott. Someone that Klausner appears to trust. Though it is noticeable that Dr Scott is somewhat afraid of Klausner while he is applying the iodine to the tree.

The fact that Dr Scott is applying the iodine on Klausner’s instruction may also be important. As Klausner is attempting to treat the tree as a human would be treated. Klausner has attached feeling to the tree based on the sound he may or may not have heard. The fact that the branch falls on the sound machine is also interesting as Klausner appears to be associating the falling of the branch with the tree defending itself. Which in all likelihood is something that is not realistic. Though for Klausner everything is realistic. It is as though Klausner’s activities with the sound machine have clouded his judgement. He may not necessarily be thinking straight such is the excitement he feels over his discovery of what he hears when he strikes the tree with an axe. The striking of the tree with an axe is also an irrational act. Though logical to Klausner. This could be important as Klausner without knowing it may have lost touch with reality. Which would play on the theme of instability.

The end of the story is also interesting as it seems to be a case that things have gotten to be too much for Klausner. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Dr Scott takes Klausner’s arm while they are walking back to the house. Symbolically this could suggest that Klausner is being taken into the care of Dr Scott. That there is a realisation by both men that Klausner may not be mentally stable. The reader aware that the trigger for Klausner’s breakdown is the fact that he allowed himself to focus entirely on the one project. Throwing all his energies into it and if anything shutting himself off from the outside world. What had most likely started off as a pet project became an obsession to Klausner and fuelled by the excitement he felt he may have tipped himself over the edge. Perhaps Dahl is suggesting that to succeed in life an individual needs balance. Something that Klausner did not have. With Klausner it was all or nothing. He may or may not have succeeded in his actions but the results are definitely not what Klausner expected. Unfortunately for Klausner he does not know if he really heard the sounds of the roses been cut or the daisies been plucked from the ground or the scream of the tree when hit with the axe. Dr Scott cannot confirm that he heard the sound that Klausner heard. Which leaves the reader suspecting that Klausner has worked too hard on the sound machine and as a result had a breakdown.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 10 Mar. 2018. Web.


  • Please help me out with a question: ” Is Klausner crazy or not?”

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Some people may suggest he is but it should be noted there is a thin line between madness and genius. He is also devoted to his experiments and fully believes he is on the right track. It could simply be a case that he is not understood by others.

    • I don’t think so.

      • That’s the catch. While you may be led to think that Klausner was just one crazy man with an incredulous machine, you must also remember that the doctor had a similar experience with the same machine- which of course under denial he refuses having encountered. So no, Klausner is not a madman, he’s just a representation of all those scientists discovering aspects that have led to destruction and despair…like use of chlorine in warfront and nuclear bombs.

    • Yes he is not crazy

  • what if he had actually heard some sound……?

  • This Story is somewhat connected with Indian scientist Jagdish Chander Bose’s life. What does the ending of the story suggest?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m not sure about Jagdish Chander Bose but there could be a comparison. As for the ending Klausner may not have heard anything but he could have.

  • Please help me out with a question: The Sound Machine depicts the apathy of man to the sounds in nature, which are a warning to him that if he will recklessly destroy nature, nature will destroy him. Discuss.

    • Klausner is the chief character of the sci-fi ‘The Sound Machine’ by Roald Dahl. He has been introduced as a small frail man, nervous and twitchy, with always moving hands. His looks are that of a typical scientist who is engrossed with a researching mind in a world of his own so he appeared dreamy and distracted. He had a strange pale face and pale grey eyes that blinked and peered behind a pair of steel spectacles which looked bewildered, unfocused and remote. There was something different about this little man and his mind seemed to be quite distant from his body which characterized his absent mindedness from the worldly affairs and his belongingness towards a different world of thinkers and researchers.

      Klausner has been depicted as a lonely soul which is a reason for him to entirely devote himself towards the world of sounds. His obsession for the world of sounds increases his hunger for new findings. He is quite discreet about his new findings and doesn’t want to disclose it unless he sees a bit of success in it. That is why he does not tell anything to his best friend Doctor Scott about the new sound machine devised by him.

      He has been introduced as a mysterious character in the initial part of the story when he straight way moves to the rear of his garden and unlocks the door of a wooden shed where he has placed the sound machine secretly. Very cautiously he unlocks the shed and as soon as he enters he quickly closes the door behind him in order to maintain the secrecy of his experiment. Klausner’s behavior at this point arouses mystery and foreshadows the episode taking place in the wooden shed as the readers at this point do not have any idea about his obsession with sounds. His mechanism of tugging the wires, examining the parts of the machine and checking its conformity with the diagram on the paper, puzzles the readers and raises their inquisitiveness to know what kind of machine it is on which Klausner is working.

      Klausner is quite self possessed and self occupied at this moment, as he is all alone in his workshop, tugging the wires, twiddling the switch and re examining the mechanism of the machine. All the while he is speaking softly to himself, nodding his head, smiling sometimes, hands and fingers continuously and swiftly, and his mouth twisting into curious shapes. He was saying to himself, ‘Ah yes …of course…good…good…yes, yes’. He concentration was quite intense and his quick movements suggested an air of urgency in his work. His excitement seemed to be suppressed as if waiting for something expected to happen.

      The workshop of Klausner somewhat reflects his own personality trait of being confused and chaotic. Klausner’s workshop is quite untidy and chaotic, quite representative of his disorganized self, as it is merely a wooden shed whose interior is unpainted and poorly maintained. Against one wall on the left, a long wooden workbench is placed and on it among the littering of wires and batteries and small sharp tools, there is a black box, which is about three feet long and has the shape of a child’s coffin. The phrase related to the shape of the box as ‘of a child’s coffin’ distracts the readers about Klausner and makes his identity questionable before they finally come to know that the box has mass of electrical wires in it. Dahl has created mystery and suspense in his unique style.

      Despite being disorganized Klausner is a determined and diligent scientist who continually works hard zealously to attain success in his experiment. For an hour he keeps himself in his workshop and with utter concentration he is completely engrossed in his work. He opens the top of the box, bends down and starts peering and poking inside it, among the mass of different coloured wires and silver tubes. He picks up a paper on which he has made the circuit diagram of the sound machine and every time when he peers inside the box, runs his fingers along the wires, tugs and tests the connections, he checks whether the connections are complying with the circuit diagram properly or not. This he continues for almost an hour and his body language suggests his urgency in carrying out the experiment to get the results soon.

      Klausner is a true and trustworthy friend of Dr. Scott. When the Doctor all of a sudden enters his wooden shed at garden, Klausner is perplexed. He is quite nervous and pretends before him that his throat is alright. The doctor can understand the situation and mistakes the sound machine as a radio. Klausner is quite reluctant to describe the machine before the Doctor still he wins his confidence and tells him about his obsession with sounds by saying, ‘I like sound’. He comfortably describes before the doctor that how much he was interested to hear the sounds that are beyond the frequency of human sense of hearing. Dr Scott gives a patient hearing to Klausner’s effort and wishes him good luck which in turn strengthens Klausner’s self confidence and he sets out towards the garden for testing the sound machine.

      Klausner is a strong character who initiates to take risks in his life and just out of his passion and obsession to hear the unheard, he takes up the task of preparing a sound machine on his own. He constantly tries to accomplish his mission by trying and testing the machine again and again at different places in varying frequencies. Despite being unsuccessful at times he does not give up and ultimately succeeds in his mission to hear the voices of nature.

      Klausner is a nature lover unlike other scientists and has great sensitivity towards it. His deep concern for the nature fosters him to frame his hypothesis – ‘There are sounds that are low pitched or high pitched that one can’t hear them. He has profound knowledge of his subject and concludes that dogs have better ears than humans as they can listen to high pitched notes. He specifies that different living organism have different notes of sound produced that are either too high pitched or too low pitched for human ears. Klausner’s hypothesis clarifies the idea that though human beings are considered as superior animals still they lack certain physical traits that are beyond their senses.

      Klausner experiences the voices of nature through his brilliantly designed machine. On hearing the painful shrieks of the rose branches when clipped by Ms Saunders, Klausner can sense the unheard pains of the nature when it is exploited and disturbed. He evaluates that nature and Earth is also a living being and its destruction and damage also affects them a lot. They shout, shriek and cry in pain but unfortunately human ears can’t hear them so they cannot calculate the great harm caused to the nature and its sufferings. Klausner’s experiment and his sound machine reflects the idea of insensitivity of human beings towards those whose sufferings and shrieks they cannot hear and destroy them mercilessly.

      Through the character of Klausner, Roald Dahl tries to generate sensitivity inhuman heart towards nature. He treats nature as a living entity and preaches humans to widen their experiences and understanding beyond their bodily limitations.

  • Is klausner insane or simply a genius. Answer referring closely to the story ‘the sound machine’ by Roald Dahl

  • The story the sound machine deals with the theme of console for environment? Discuss and illustrate?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It can very well deal with the environment and how mankind has forgotten to look after it. To take care and nurture it. Klausner discovers that trees have feelings. Something that others might not be aware of. They hurt just as humans hurt.

  • What is the main theme of the story

  • Roald Dahl had a strong sense for non-human life, check out his poems The Pig and Little Red Riding Hood.

    And, as science tells us, plants trees, flowers and everything else have nervous systems, families, they communicate, they learn, they adapt to stimuli etc etc. Not sure how much Roald Dahl knew about that, but he could imagine it – as humans have been able to do for thousands and thousands of years, through feeling at one with nature, and bio empathy. Different today when we are primitive enough to believe we’re the masters of the universe, worshipping the Tech God (who is clumsily imitating solutions that nature can produce a million times better and more efficient).

    See the Hidden Life of Trees, as one great book to start!

  • Describe Klausner’s idea and his device. Are they phrasely or scientifically probable?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Klausner’s device measures feelings (for trees or nature). I’m not sure if the tests are scientifically possible but Klausner believes his invention works.

  • How did klausner give a vivid detail of the sound machine ro the doctor?

  • Tell me how klausner is different from the other two characters ?

  • Describe the concept of the story “The sound machine “

  • What would be the answer to the question that was his object fulfilled or not and how?

  • How can you prove that Scott had actually listened to any sound through the machine?

  • Do you think the world would have gained with another invention if Klausner had succeeded with his experiment? How?

  • so do you know what is the moral of the story ?

  • Can you explain me the thesis of this story (what the narrator wants to tell us…) ?

  • pls help me, the author use a particular tone in the story why ? And is the text happy, sad, tragic or something else ?

  • This shows that trees also feel pain and cry just like humans ….so we shouldn’t harm them

  • “The sound machine” deals subtly with the theme of concern for environment. Justify.

  • Thanks but can you please elaborate it little?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Klausner focuses on plant life because he believes they have feelings. By killing them or injuring them Klausner knows that not only the plant life will be damaged but so too will the environment. Klausner like an environmentalist wants to protect the trees and plant life.

  • What inspired Roald Dahl to write The Sound Machine?

  • What are the themes of The Sound Machine? Explain each theme.

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