What is "The Portable Phonograph" about?

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The famous short story "The Portable Phonograph" by Walter van Tilburg Clark was originally published in the collection The Watchful Gods and Other Stories in 1950 and has been anthologized many times since. The story concerns four survivors of some sort of unspecified disaster who have come together in an old man's cave-like shelter for a literary reading and to listen to a piece of music on the old man's wind-up phonograph.

As the story opens, Clark describes the frozen landscape, shattered and decimated by war. The author then zooms in, almost as if it were a film, on the old man's shelter dug into a bank above a creek. It's like the burrow of an animal. The old man is burning peat instead of wood to keep warm, and he has but a few pieces of furniture and scraps of blankets in his shelter. Clark gives all these details so that the reader understands what a cold, stark, deprived world is left after humankind has all but obliterated itself.

The old man has just finished reading...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 550 words.)

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