The Difficult Lesson of The Enormous Radio

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The Difficult Lesson of The Enormous Radio

"The Enormous Radio" by John Cheever begins with Jim and Irene Westcott who are an average American couple with an average American family. Cheever describes them as middle-aged, having two young children, a pleasant home, and a sufficient income. On the surface they seem to have a perfect life, but underneath this is not the case. In the course of the story, Irene’s imperfections are revealed by a hideous radio. The radio was bought to give the Westcott’s listening pleasure, but then they discover it can hear all the neighbors’ conversations. Irene becomes so obsessed with eavesdropping on her neighbors’ conversations, that it blinds her from her own problems.

It seems as though Irene’s life is innocent, and she does a good job of keeping her life looking as perfect as she can. Cheever describes how she selects her living room’s "furnishings and colors as carefully as her own" (817). The radio did not fit into her decorations, so she thought of it as standing "among her intimate possessions like an aggressive intruder" (817). Burton Kendal stated that, "Even before the radio starts broadcasting conversations from the neighboring apartments, its mere presence in the household oppresses the atmosphere" (128). This is a clue to the reader that the radio was not only an interruption to Irene’s decor, but an interruption to her life as well.

As Irene became obsessed with the radio, she "began to feel depressed, instead of delighted as she once had been" (Giordano 57). The radio revealed to her the most private and intimate secrets of her neighbors’ lives. It showed the conversations that nobody would share with others. As Jim claims to his wife, "It’s indecent. It’s like loo...

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... in her community. According to Giordano, the Westcotts’ "lives, on the large scale of events, were just another example of ordinary life in just another apartment in just another city" (58).

Irene has the radio on and she turns to it in hopes that "the instrument might speak to her kindly," but "the voice on the radio was suave and noncommittal" (829). This reveals that everyday life continues and everyone has everyday problems, including Irene. In the end, Irene’s attempts to hide her problems fail. She realizes that everyone has problems and that you cannot avoid them by putting on blindfolds. It only makes life harder if we do not solve our problems and come to grips with the fact that nobody has a perfect life.

Work Cited

Cheever, John. "The Enormous Radio." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

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