“Sounds and Silences” is a rather heavy-handed character sketch of an individual who is deeply flawed as a husband, as a boss, and simply as a member of humanity. Roswell Flemington’s flaws are related to his interests and values. He is obsessed with all things nautical. His home is filled with images of boats, model boats, parts of boats, including a large ship’s wheel. He owns a model ship company, and he runs it like a ship captain. He barks out commands laced with nautical turns of phrase. Flemington doesn’t speak, he yells out commands. His employees hate him.
Flemington loves the loud sounds of boats at sea, and reproduces them not only by barking out commands like a ship captain, but by ringing a ship’s bell and playing recordings of ships in battle. He takes great delight in this auditory shower of sound, while the rest of the world cringes at the assault. This is a man who cares only about himself and engineers his sensory world as one in which he can be enveloped in the sounds of his past career as a naval officer.
This is a morality play, and so the moral affront Flemington inflicts on the world has to be answered by a world in which everyone gets their due in the long term. The long term arrives for Flemington in two stages. First, he suddenly finds that he experiences sounds as if they are all much louder than normal. With the help of a psychiatrist, he learns to control his perception of sound, so that the perceived volume is reduced to an acceptable level. Second, the sound level he perceives continues to go down, to the point where even the loudest sounds are barely audible. In essence Flemington has lost most of his hearing.
If there is anything philosophically interesting in this story, it is this: Flemington’s imposition of excessively loud sounds on others goes hand in hand with his complete self-absorption, and his lack of regard for the rights, needs, opinions or interests of everyone else in the world. He can only hear himself, and in his company, others can only hear him. He drowns everyone else out. So one form of morally objectionable behavior has to do with an imbalance of input and output. If your input into the system prevents the system from providing a response that you can process and understand, then the conditions for being able to understand, much less respond to, the needs of others will simply not exist. In the end, Flemington can’t even hear himself, or the sounds that were so much a part of his identity, that the identity of others was of no significance to him.