The Portable Phonograph Questions and Answers
by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

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What is suggested by the quote "We are the doddering remnants of a race of mechanical fools" in "The Portable Phonograph"?

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One of the strongest elements of the short story is its questioning of progress.  The story features a setting that has been decimated by world conflict.  Technological advancement and progress benchmarks reached could not stop the obliteration of society and the annihilation of cultures.  In this light, the quote of "mechanical fools" is persuasive because it brings to light how individuals who were galvanized by progress did little to fully understand that progress for its own sake is meaningless if it is not geared towards an end of social betterment.  Technology and mechanism were not driven towards this end, as the result was world catastrophe.  The quote brings to light the pain of recognizing progress as something that represents failure.  In the end, Dr. Jenkins saved what was good in the old civilization, even though they could not save that civilization. He adds that he hopes that they will help the people of the next civilization to be strong enough that they will not fall behind when they become clever.  This might reflect the scope and meaning of the quotation, and its comment about the potential and very real shortcomings within it.

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