“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted, or take them with gratitude.” This quote by G. K. Chesterson, representing people’s struggle to show future generations what life was like by preserving classics. This is shown by the phonograph in “The Portable Phonograph” by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. “The Portable Phonograph” has many examples of symbolism including the portable phonograph, the needle, the records, the lead pipe, the books, and elements of setting including the prairie, the cell and the cell block, and the black cloud strips.
The first tangible objects in the story that is symbolic are the phonograph, the needles and the records, which symbolize the characters’ desire to hold onto civilization. The phonograph is symbolic to the characters’ desires when the narrator states:
“He returned and placed tenderly upon the packed floor, where the firelight might fall upon it, an old portable phonograph in a black case. He smoothed the top with his hand, and then opened it.” (Clark 141)
This quote expresses the main character’s want to hold onto civilization by trying to preserve the phonograph for future generations to use. By the main character, also known as the host and the old man, preserving the phonograph, this symbolizes that he wants to keep this phonograph safe, so future generations could see what life was like for him and his generation. Next, the needles typify the characters desire to hold onto civilization. When the narrator states:
“’I have been using thorns as needles,’ he said. ‘But tonight, because we have a musician among us’ . . . ‘I will use a steel needle. There are only three left.’ . . . ‘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,’ … ‘they can’t last forever.’” (Clark 141-142)
This quote shows that even though it may not seem like civilization is dying away and some of the men are not noticing, the host does notice. Just like the needles will not last forever as stated in the quote, neither will their civilization, which is why the host tries to preserve the phonograph. Finally, the records symbolize the yearn for keeping their civilization. This is shown in the story when the host begins to play the phonograph. When the phonograph was played, everyone sat in silence, waiting for the “wet, blue-green notes” to be played. (Clark 143) The “wet, blue-green notes” symbolize the sadness of the characters that their civilization may be lost. (Clark 143)
The next tangible objects in “The Portable Phonograph” that are symbolic are the lead pipe and the books, which also symbolize the characters’ desire to hold onto civilization. The lead pipe represents their want to hold onto civilization and is shown when the narrator says, “On the inside of the bed, next to the wall, he could...