The main character of the story is a very old man named Dr. Jenkins. He lives in a cave-like tunnel near a frozen stream in a barren landscape that has been ruined by a catastrophic war. Other men come to listen to him read from the handful of...
The main character of the story is a very old man named Dr. Jenkins. He lives in a cave-like tunnel near a frozen stream in a barren landscape that has been ruined by a catastrophic war. Other men come to listen to him read from the handful of books he was able to save and to listen to his phonograph and his few records.
Jenkins says that he "saved what [he] love[s]" and "the soul of what was good in us here." He seems to hope that the next people who come to live in this place—most of the old population was killed in the war—will make use of the things that he saved: the things that show the good that was possessed by the people who almost destroyed the earth and themselves.
The fact that he is called "doctor" and chose to save high-cultural artifacts like literature and classical music indicates that he was a cultured man who has since been altered into a person who must sleep with a leaden pipe beneath his blankets so that he can protect himself and the things he loves.
The Two Middle-Aged Men
There are three other men in the cave with Jenkins. One of them believes that Jenkins will at least "have a little soul left until [he] die[s]" as a result of what he has salvaged. In the absence of art and culture, he feels that his "brain becomes thick," and he wants paper to write on but there is none. He is later described as antagonistic. Another man thanks Jenkins for reading the books to them; he is more soft-spoken and is less bitter than the man who wants paper. Both of these two men are middle-aged.
The Young Man
Finally, there is a young man who coughs a lot. He is—or was—a musician, and Jenkins lets him choose the record that they listen to. They all listen thoughtfully to the music when it begins, but the young musician is the most affected of all of them. He seems to agonize—to actually endure physical pain—while he listens. He leaves separately from the other two men. When Jenkins (after all the other men have left and after hiding all of his treasures) hears coughing in the dark, he grasps his leaden pipe to be sure it is there.