|Portable Phonograph (Post-assessment)|
|Thursday, 17 January 2013|
Scroll all the way down to see the paper prompt for the assessment.
THE red sunset with narrow, black cloud strips like threads across it, lay on the curved horizon of the prairie. The air was still and cold, .and in it settled the mute darkness and greater cold of night. High in the air there was wind, for through the veil of the dusk the clouds could be seen gliding rapidly south and changing shapes. A queer sensation of torment, of two-sided, unpredictable nature, arose from the stillness of the earth air beneath the violence of the upper air. Out of the sunset, through the dead, matted grass and isolated weed stalks of the prairie, crept the narrow and deeply rutted remains of a road. In the road, in places, there were crusts of shallow, brittle ice. There were little islands of an old oiled pavement in the road too, but most of it was mud, now frozen rigid. The frozen mud still bore the toothed impress of great tanks, and a wanderer on the neighboring undulations might have stumbled, in this light, into large, partially filled-in and weed-grown cavities, their banks Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc. Copyright, 1941, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. 408 The Short Stories channelled and beginning to spread into badlands. These pits were such as might have been made by falling meteors, but they were not. They were the scars of gigantic bombs, their rawness already made a little natural by rain, seed, and time. Along the road, there were rakish remnants of fence. There was also, just visible, one portion of tangled and multiple barbed wire still erect, behind which was a shelving ditch with small caves, now very quiet and empty, at intervals in its back wall. Otherwise there was no structure or remnant of a structure visible over the dome of the darkling earth, but only, in sheltered hollows, the darker shadows of young trees trying again.
Under the wuthering arch of the high wind a V of wild geese fled south. The rush of their pinions sounded briefly, and the faint, plaintive notes of their expeditionary talk. Then they left a still greater vacancy. There was the smell and expectation of snow, as there is likely to be when the wild geese fly south. From the remote distance, towards the red sky, came faintly the protracted howl and quick yap-yap of a prairie wolf.
North of the road, perhaps a hundred yards, lay the parallel and deeply intrenched course of a small creek, lined with leafless alders and willows. The creek was already silent under ice. Into the bank above it was dug a sort of cell, with a single opening, like the mouth of a mine tunnel. Within the cell there was a little red of fire, which showed dully through the opening, like a reflection or a deception of the imagination. The light came from the chary burning of four blocks of poorly aged peat, which gave off a petty warmth and much acrid smoke. But the precious remnants of wood, old fence posts and timbers from the long-deserted dugouts, had to be saved for the real cold, for the time when a man's breath blew white, the moisture in his nostrils stiffened at once when he stepped out, and the expansive blizzards paraded for days over the vast open, swirling and settling and thickening, till the dawn of the cleared day when the sky was thin blue-green and the terrible cold, in which a oian could not live for three hours unwarmed, lay over the uniformly drifted swell of the plain.
Around the smoldering peat, four men were seated cross-legged. Behind them, traversed by their shadows, was the earth bench, with two old and dirty army blankets, where the owner of the cell slept. In a niche in the opposite wall were a few tin utensils which caught the glint of the coals. The host was rewrapping in a piece of daubed burlap four fine, leather- bound books. He worked slowly and very carefully, and at last tied the bundle securely with a piece of grass-woven cord. The other three looked intently upon the process, as if a great significance lay in it. As the host tied the cord, he spoke. He was an old man, his long, matted beard and hair gray to nearly white. The shadows made his brows and cheekbones appear gnarled, his eyes and cheeks deeply sunken. His big hands, rough with frost and swollen by rheumatism, were awkward but gentle at their task. The Portable Phonograph 409 He was like a prehistoric priest performing a fateful ceremonial rite. Also his voice had in it a suitable quality of deep, reverent despair, yet perhaps at the moment, a sharpness of selfish satisfaction. u When I perceived what was happening," he said, "I told myself, 'It is the end. I cannot take much; I will take these.'
"Perhaps I was impractical," he continued. "But for myself, I do not regret, and what do we know of those who will come after us? We are the doddering remnant of a race of mechanical fools. I have saved what I love; the- soul of what was good in us is here; perhaps the new ones will make a strong enough beginning not to fall behind when they become clever."
He rose with slow pain and placed the wrapped volumes in the niche with his utensils. The others watched him with the same ritualistic gaze.
"Shakespeare, the Bible, Moby Dick, the Divine Comedy/' one of them said softly. "You might have done worse, much worse."
"You will have a little soul left until you die," said another harshly. "That is more than is true of us. My brain becomes thick, like my hands." He held the big, battered hands, with their black nails, in the glow to be 9 seen.
"I want paper to write on," he said. "And there is none."
The fourth man said nothing. He sat in the shadow farthest from the fire, and sometimes his body jerked in its rags from the cold. Although he was still young, he was sick and coughed often. Writing implied a greater future than he now felt able to consider.
The old man seated himself laboriously, and reached out, groaning at the movement, to put another block of peat on the fire. With bowed heads and averted eyes, his three guests acknowledged his magnanimity.
"We thank you, Doctor Jenkins, for the reading," said the man who had named the books.
They seemed then to be waiting for something. Doctor Jenkins under- stood, but was loath to comply. In an ordinary moment he would have said nothing. But the words of The Tempest, which he had been reading, and the religious attention of the three made this an unusual occasion.
"You wish to hear the phonograph," he said grudgingly.
The two middle-aged men stared into the fire, unable to formulate and expose the enormity of their desire.
The young man, however, said anxiously, between suppressed coughs, "Oh, please," like an excited child.
The old man rose again in his difficult way, and went to the back of the cell. He returned and placed tenderly upon the packed floor, where the fire- light might fall upon it, an old portable phonograph in a black case. He smoothed the top with his hand, and then opened it. The lovely green-felt- covered disk became visible.
"I have been using thorns as needles," he said. "But tonight, because we 410 The Short Stories have a musician among us" he bent his head to the young man, almost invisible in the shadow "I will use a steel needle. There are only three left."
The two middle-aged men stared at him in speechless adoration. The one with the big hands, who wanted to write, moved his lips, but the whisper was not audible.
"Oh, don't!" cried the young man, as if he were hurt. "The thorns will do beautifully."
"No," the old man said. "I have become accustomed to the thorns,, but they are not really good. For you, my young friend, we will have good music tonight."
"After all," he added generously, and beginning to wind the phonograph, which creaked, "they can't last forever."
"No, nor we," the man who needed to write said harshly. "The needle, by all means."
"Oh, thanks," said the young man. "Thanks," he said again in a low, ex- cited voice, and then stifled his coughing with a bowed head.
"The records, though," said the old man when he had finished winding, "are a different matter. Already they are very worn. I do not play them more than once a week. One, once a week, that is what I allow myself.
"More than a week I cannot stand it; not to hear them," he apologized.
"No, how could you?" cried the young man. "And with them here like this."
"A man can stand anything," said the man who wanted to write, in his harsh, antagonistic voice.
"Please, the music," said the young man.
"Only the one," said the old man. "In the long run, we will remember more that way."
He had a dozen records with luxuriant gold and red seals. Even in that light the others could see that the threads of the records were becoming worn. Slowly he read out the titles and the tremendous, dead names of the composers and the artists and the orchestras. The three worked upon the names in their minds, carefully. It was difficult to select from such a wealth what they would at once most like to remember. Finally, the man who wanted to write named Gershwin's "New York."
"Oh, no," cried the sick young man, and then could say nothing more because he had to cough. The others understood him, and the harsh man withdrew his selection and waited for the musician to choose.
The musician begged Doctor Jenkins to read the titles again, very slowly, so that he could remember the sounds. While they were read, he lay back against the wall, his eyes closed, his thin, horny hand pulling at his light beard, and listened to the voices and the orchestras and the single instru- ments in his mind.
When the reading was done he spoke despairingly. "I have forgotten," he complained; "I cannot hear them clearly.
"There are things missing," he explained.
"I know," said Doctor Jenkins. "I thought that I knew all of Shelley by heart. I should have brought Shelley."
"That's more soul than we can use," said the harsh man. "Moby Dick is better."
"By God, we can understand that," he emphasized.
The Doctor nodded.
"Still," said the man who had admired the books, "we need the absolute if we are to keep a grasp on anything.
"Anything but these sticks and peat clods and rabbit snares," he said bitterly.
"Shelley desired an ultimate absolute," said the harsh man. "It's too much," he said. "It's no good; no earthly good."
The musician selected a Debussy nocturne. The others considered and approved. They rose to their knees to watch the Doctor prepare for the playing, so that they appeared to be actually in an attitude of worship. The peat glow showed the thinness of their bearded faces, and the deep lines in them, and revealed the condition of their garments. The other two con- tinued to kneel as the old man carefully lowered the needle onto the spin- ning disk, but the musician suddenly drew back against the wall again, with his knees up, and buried his face in his hands.
At the first notes of the piano the listeners were startled. They stared at each other. Even the musician lifted his head in amazement, but then quickly bowed it again, strainingly, as if he were suffering from a pain he might not be able to endure. They were all listening deeply, without move- ment. The wet, blue-green notes tinkled forth from the old machine, and were individual, delectable presences in the cell. The individual, delectable presences swept into a sudden tide of unbearably beautiful dissonance, and then continued fully the swelling and ebbing of that tide, the dissonant in- pourings, and the resolutions, and the diminishments, and the little, quiet wavelets of interlude lapping between. Every sound was piercing and singu- larly sweet. In all the men except the musician, there occurred rapid sequences of tragically heightened recollection. He heard nothing but what was there. At the final, whispering disappearance, but moving quietly so that the others would not hear him and look at him, he let his head fall back in agony, as if it were drawn there by the hair, and clenched the fingers of one hand over his teeth. He sat that way while the others were silent, and until they began to breathe again normally. His drawn-up legs were trem- bling violently.
Quickly Doctor Jenkins lifted the needle off, to save it and not to spoil the recollection with scraping. When he had stopped the whirling of the 412 The Short Stories sacred disk, he courteously left the phonograph open and by the fire, in sight.
The others, however, understood. The musician rose last, but then abruptly, and went quickly out at the door without saying anything. The others stopped at the door and gave their thanks in low voices. The Doctor nodded magnificently.
"Come again," he invited, "in a week. We will have the 'New York.' "
When the two had gone together, out towards the rimed road, he stood in the entrance, peering and listening. At first, there was only the resonant boom of the wind overhead, and then far over the dome of the dead, dark plain, the wolf cry lamenting. In the rifts of clouds the Doctor saw four stars flying. It impressed the Doctor that one of them had just been obscured by the beginning of a flying cloud at the very moment he heard what he had been listening for, a sound of suppressed coughing. It was not near-by, how- ever. He believed that down against the pale alders he could see the moving shadow.
With nervous hands he lowered the piece of canvas which served as his door, and pegged it at the bottom. Then quickly and quietly, looking at the piece of canvas frequently, he slipped the records into the case, snapped the lid shut, and carried the phonograph to his couch. There, pausing often to stare at the canvas and listen, he dug earth from the wall and disclosed a piece of board. Behind this there was a deep hole in the wall, into which he put the phonograph. After a moment's consideration, he went over and reached down his bundle of books and inserted it also. Then, guardedly, he once more sealed up the hole with the board and the earth. He also changed his blankets, and the grass-stuffed sack which served as a pillow, so that he could lie facing the entrance. After carefully placing two more blocks of peat upon the fire, he stood for a long time watching the stretched canvas, but it seemed to billow naturally with the first gusts of a lowering wind. At last he prayed, and got in under his blankets, and closed his smoke-smarting eyes. On the inside of the bed, next the wall, he could feel with his hand the comfortable piece of lead pipe.
English 11 & 12
Grade Level Writing Assessment
Compare and Contrast
You will only have one class period to do this assignment. If you do not finish, you will have to hand in what you have.
Compare and contrast the film Portable Phonograph with the story Portable Phonograph, paying special attention to how elements of setting, character, plot, and theme are utilized in each, and how film adds the elements of camera, sound, and special effects.
(Each class will fine tune the compare/contrast to be more specific to the texts.)
Comparisons = Similarities Contrasts = Differences
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1. <!--[endif]-->Find three or four examples from the texts upon which to base your comparisons and contrasts.
<!--[2. Examine possible connections and determine a thesis statement for your essay. These connections are often thematic, and can be made through setting, character, and plot.
<!--[3. Give equal coverage to the examples you’ve chosen.
<!--[4. You should have:
1 introductory paragraph
1 – 4 body paragraphs that identify examples, and discuss the similarities
1 concluding paragraph
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