Phonograph: World War I and Early 20th Century

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In Walter Van Tilburg Clark's "The Portable Phonograph," the author makes setting play a major role in understanding the action of the characters within the story. Clark, a writer and an English Professor, lived from 1909 to 1971. During that time, he lived through both World Wars at a relatively young age, which may have influenced this story. Clark has excellent use of setting to make the atmosphere needed and set the proper mood, so this story is credible. To accomplish this, Clark orients the reader to a unique place and time by use of the physical setting and human possessions, and uses symbolism to create a mood that gives the reader insight to how the characters must feel in their surroundings.

In order to understand the behavior and actions of the four characters in this story, the author must describe the place physical place and time where the four characters must survive. The perception of this environment is crucial for the actions of the characters to be appropriate. Clark describes some sights in this decimated prairie, "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 channeled and beginning to spread into badlands. These pits were such as might have been made by falling meteors, but they were not. They were scars of gigantic bombs…"(292) The reference to both tank tracks and bomb creators, gives the reader the impression of a conventional war zone, where typical motorized and infantry combat must have been brutal, and ruined the homes of many. Clark's additional description of "frozen mud" and "weed grown cavities," show that the scene takes place months after the battle here has ended. Not only does the written word describe the scene, but also that fact that never once does Clark mention a solider, equipment or emplacements, insists the prairie is now behind the lines. There are...
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