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.