The Sound Machine

The Sound Machine Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What justifies Roald Dahl's decision to narrate "The Sound Machine" through a narrator who shifts into different characters' perspectives?

    By narrating "The Sound Machine" through different characters' perspectives, Dahl leaves open the question of whether Klausner is a madman and raises the idea that there is no objective reality cannot be easily defined. By showing characters like the doctor and Mrs. Saunders attempting to assess Klausner's sanity through his manic behavior in contrast to the discoveries Klausner makes, Dahl creates a pervasive sense of ambiguity about the true nature of Klausner's connection to reality. Were the book written from a first-person perspective of just one of the three characters, the reader would be biased toward that character's subjective version of reality. Ultimately, Dahl uses multiple points of view to make the story more engaging and promote critical thinking on the reader's part by leaving open the question of Klausner's sanity.

  2. 2

    What roles does obsession play in "The Sound Machine"?

    Dahl illustrates the theme of obsession by depicting Klausner's preoccupation with detecting sounds too high-pitched for the human ear to hear by showing how Klausner's obsession with proving his theory leads him to abandon his civility. Dahl shows the arc of Klausner's obsessive decline by starting with Klausner calmly tinkering with the machine's electrical components. As the story goes on, Klausner becomes more and more absorbed in his work. After the first successful test, he wakes at dawn the next morning to bring the machine to the park to conduct the flower test on a larger scale. Entranced by his findings, Klausner urges the doctor to come straight over to confirm Klausner's findings. However, when the machine breaks Klausner is left without an outlet for his obsession. He shifts from obsessing over the machine to obsessing over the tree he believes he has wounded and demands that the doctor practice first-aid on the tree's wounds. With Klausner's objectively illogical demand, Dahl shows how Klausner's obsessiveness clouds his reality: No longer recognizing the doctor's humanity or authority, Klausner strikes a menacing pose with the axe to ensure the doctor does as he says.

  3. 3

    What does the sound machine in "The Sound Machine" symbolize?

    The sound-detection device at the heart of "The Sound Machine" is symbolic of Klausner's connection to an objective reality. Klausner invents the scientific instrument in order to bridge the gap between his theoretical understanding of the way sound waves function and an observable, measurable reality. In this way, Klausner attempts to turn to his subjective experience of objective reality by using the sound machine to prove the world is full of sounds too high for the human ear to comprehend. At the end of the story, when the tree branch falls on and smashes the sound machine, Klausner loses more than his invention: he loses his bridge to objective reality. Without the sound machine to confirm what he heard, Klausner forces the doctor to apply iodine to the wounded tree. With this gesture, Klausner underscores his break with reality and reveals that he has decided to believe in his subjective experience of the tree making a pained sound even if he can't prove it as an observable fact.