New Plague, New Playlist

Music always enhances situations; just imagine any movie without its soundtrack. It distracts, it expresses, it liberates, it comforts, it dramatizes – it lives. Unsurprisingly, music has played an important role in some of our previously studied novels (such as Pushkin’s A Feast During the Plague), as well as in this week’s novel: Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Below, I’ve compiled the novella’s playlist of mentioned songs (as well as one poem) and their respective page numbers, ranging from war tunes to anthems, and spirituals to jazz music. 

When listening to the pieces, ask yourself: Why did Porter specifically mention this by name? What is its significance in the text? Does the song in any way reflect and/or parallel the themes and events in the novel? 

Many of the war songs listed above coincidentally (or perhaps intentionally?) mention themes and images that appear in the text. For instance, “Pack Up Your Troubles” is a military tune about “Private Perks… with a smile, a funny smile,” and the chorus tells soldiers (“boys”) to stop worrying and to just “smile, smile, smile”. This notion of smiling in the face of difficulty can be seen in the novel, as both the war and plague are described as funny (158, 161), and characters such as Miranda respond to war or disease by laughing and feeling hilarious about it (184). Thus, was this a sheer coincidence, or did Porter try to highlight this behaviour when she named this particular tune? If so, why?

Aside from the justifiable mention of military songs, Porter also specifically identifies certain pop/dance songs of the early 20th century. Although this may again seem superficial or meaningless, pay attention to the lyrics and the story behind these secular songs. The quoted verse from the Blues contains the phrase “heart disease,” which in both the song and the novel, refers to an emotional rather than a physical pain. In fact, Miranda speaks of the emotional impact of war and its damage on the heart and mind: “what [the war] does to them is worse than what it can do to the body” (177). Again, what is the significance of this parallelism? How does the song enhance our reading of the text?

Here’s the video for the Blues:

And here’s the video for La Madelon:

All these songs/poems were mentioned for a reason. Give a few of them a listen and see if you can determine why they were specifically identified, and how they enhance and reflect the text. Or better yet, just listen to them for the sake of music. After all, music is “A magic beyond all we do here!” according to Professor Dumbledore.

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