Wednesday, 21 September 2011

“The Sound Machine” by Roald Dahl: outline


The writer reveals/portrays characters in the story through various ways:
  •     what the narrator says
  •     what the character says
  •     what the character does
  •     what other characters say or how they react/behave.

1.          Klausner (a patient of Dr. Scott)

a)      Physical attributes

-     small frail man, nervous and twitchy,
-     large head inclined towards his left shoulder,
-     face – smooth and pale, almost white,
-     pale-grey hair,
-     pale, small and thin, that he looks like an ancient, consumptive, bespectacled child.

b)      Personality traits

-     frail, nervous, twitchy little man, a moth of a man,
-     patient and meticulous,
-     insecure and lack confidence.

2.          Dr. Scott (the doctor)

-     tall man
-     inquisitive
-     sceptical
-     nervous

3.          Mrs. Saunders (Klausner’s neighbour)

-     obliging
-     nervous


Character traits
Textual evidence
Meticulous and patient He picked up a piece of paper that lay…checking each wire. He did this for perhaps an hour.
Insecure (lack of confidence) He was shifting from one foot… “Well, it’s like this.”  He kept on talking to himself… of might happen it did.
Nervous He was a small frail man, nervous and twitchy….  He was a frail, nervous and twitchy little man, a moth of a man…
Crazy/mad Mrs. Saunders had always believed …had gone completely crazy.
Patient Klausner sat down beside the telephone and waited.
Excited There was no sign of madness …merely disturbed and excited.
Confident “What does it sound like?”… “Exactly, what did it sound like?”

Dr. Scott 

Inquisitive “What is this?” he said. “Making a radio?”  But he kept standing there … patient of his was up to.
Sceptical The doctor looked at the long black coffin-box. “And you’re going to try it tonight?”  Well, I wish you luck
The Doctor smiled…over his ears.
The Doctor began to rub the back … “…I couldn’t  be sure”
“oh hell!”… “I really don’t know.”
nervous The doctor certainly seemed nervous.  The doctor hesitated. He saw Klausner’s hands … was to run away fast.

Plot Summary

Klausner has a new theory of sound and invents a machine to capture the sounds. Klausner’s doctor makes a house call and shows interests in the machine. However, he is not convinced Klausner’s machine can register sounds unheard by man.

Klausner tests his machine in his garden and finds that it registers sounds which are emitted when his neighbour Mrs. Saunders cuts rose stems in her garden. He tries explaining this to her but she flees in fear.

The next day Klausner experiments with his machine in the park by cutting a tree. He detects a similar cry and quickly telephones Dr. Scott.

At the park, while demonstrating his theory to Dr. Scott, his machine is destroyed by a falling branch. Klausner demands to know from Dr. Scott whether he had heard a sound. Dr Scott denies hearing it.

Klausner forces Dr. Scott to stitch and treat the “wound” of the tree. Dr Scott obeys and they walk back arm in arm.

The plot

1.          EXPOSITION

-   Klausner resembles his new machine.
-   Dr. Scott arrives and expresses interest.

2.          RISING ACTION

-   Klausner tests his new machine.
-   He hears shrieks as Mrs. Saunders cuts rose stems. He explains his theory to her.
-   She thinks he is crazy.
-   Excited, he tests his theory by cutting a tree the next day.
-   He summons Dr. Scott to prove his theory.

3.          CONFLICT

Klausner demonstrates his theory to Dr. Scott. The branch of the tree falls on the machine. Klausner insists that Dr. Scott admits that he heard a sound when the tree was cut. Dr Scott denies it.

4.          CLIMAX

Klausner forces Dr. Scott to treat the wounded tree.

5.          FALLING ACTION

Dr. Scott obeys Klausner’s orders

6.          RESOLUTION

Klausner and Dr. Scott return to the house arm in arm.

Language and Style

1.           Simple and straightforward
2.           Descriptive details of main character
3.           Tendency to write in long sentences (several clauses)
4.           Lengthy description
5.           Contrast in length of Klausner’s and other character sentences
6.           Repetitive of adjectives and descriptions
7.           Symbols


1.  Individuality vs. Conformity

Society has certain accepted norms and beliefs, theories and interpretations of life. When an individual’s beliefs or theories differ with what society upholds, that person meets obstacles. The story seems to suggest that a compromise can be reached so that the individual can survive in the face of opposition.

2.  Madness vs. Sanity

People who hold different views from the rest of society are often labelled as mad. In the story, Klausner’s madness is hinted at. His behaviour and what he propounds seem strange and odd to others.

3.  Appearance vs. Reality

The question that lingers from the beginning to the end of the story is whether the sounds that Klausner heard were real or a figment of his imagination. Klausner is totally convinced that there are sounds which ordinary human cannot hear. Another theory he claims is that plants cry out when they are cut. The Sound Machine which could have proved these facts is destroyed. This is another question that remains unanswered till the end. There may be differing perceptions of reality.

4.  Rejection vs. Acceptance

The Sound Machine shows us that people are different. It seems to suggest that we should not reject people who are different from us or whose ideas we find controversial. Even if you are not convinced or do not agree with others’ views, it is possible to live harmoniously with each other.

Roald Dahl has the following advice for his readers:


1.            Hold steadfastly to your convictions without fear.
2.            Respect people even if they hold different views.
3.            Pursue the truth even if you are alone.
4.            Accept and admit the truth.
5.            Respect all life forms and love the environment.


1.            Do not reject/ostracise/ridicule/dismiss people who think differently from you.
2.            Do not label people who are different.



  1. Thank you to whoever made this !! Awesome summary :) u saved me time to stress about reading other notes not relevant for my exam!!! :)

  2. Thanks for the details of the story it helped me very much .

  3. Themes are really meaningful tysm

  4. "Concern for nature" theme is missing... Can u pls elaborate a bit on it? Thank you.

  5. Helpful analysis.students will definitely benefit....alka jha.sjc.patna