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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of “Harmony” is indicated both by the title and by the narrator’s final comment. The story involves two kinds of group effort: baseball and close-harmony singing. To most of the characters in the story, singing is a spare-time activity. Baseball is their primary interest, even though they know that their big-league careers will be over when their skills decline. To Graham, however, the quartet makes life worthwhile, and baseball is simply a necessary adjunct to the quartet. The comedy in “Harmony” comes from Graham’s attempts to use the baseball system for the purposes of his quartet, attempts that are doomed by the perishable nature of baseball talent.

In keeping his quartet together, Graham must always battle the clock and the calendar. He fights for the players’ time, hurrying them out of bed on the train, gathering them from the dining car, resenting their leisure activities, even breaking up Parks’s romance. He would, if he could, put quartet practice ahead of baseball practice. Though he must let the players stop singing long enough to play ball, however, Graham has considerable success in dominating the rest of their time. It is the calendar that defeats him, first taking McCann from him and finally removing Graham himself, who probably leaves the team sooner because the tenor he scouted happens to play Graham’s own position.

Although the story is built on Graham’s attempt to serve the needs of his quartet while seeming to live for his sport, an attempt in which the victories are necessarily temporary, in his conclusion the narrator suggests that the harmonizing of the quartet may have resulted in better play on the ball field. One recalls Graham’s insistence that he could not be a scout because he would be too lonely. Perhaps the same spirit that brings the quartet together, sometimes half unwilling, but submitting to Graham’s demands in part simply to make him happy, is the spirit that took the team to first place. Somehow, once the habit of musical harmony has gone with three of the harmonizers, says the narrator, the baseball team itself is not the same.