The Enormous Radio

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In the short story by John Cheever called "The Enormous Radio" it begins with Jim and Irene Westcotts appearing like the perfect American family. Cheever describes them as "the kind of people who seem to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability" (Cheever 1). What is ironic about this story is the Westcotts are far from being the perfect family and the community they try to conform to is just as imperfect as the Westcotts themselves. A way the Westcotts try to live up to their society is by keeping secret the fact that they listen to the radio and attend musical events. This is because these activities were not something members of their community did. For example, Cheever says the "Westcotts differed from their friends, their classmates, and their neighbors only in an interest in music. They went to a great many concerts although they never mentioned this to anyone" (1). In the rest of the story Irene Westcott has an addiction to an eavesdropping radio that reveals the personalities and business of her friends and neighbors. When their first radio breaks down, Jim buys another as a gift for his wife. At first Irene is rather put off by the "physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet." Its "dials flooded with a malevolent green light," and inside the cabinet held "violent forces" (1). More disturbing is the radio's tendency to pick up interference. Wanting to hear music, Irene instead hears ringing telephones and the conversations and disagreements of her neighbors.

Initially she hated the new radio. But the Westcotts have such an obsession for Music that they always listened to it when they are home. Soon they discover the radio has other offerings, the private worlds of their neighbors. Her first reaction is paranoia: "'Maybe they can hear us,'" says Irene (3). This gives way to curiosity: "'I guess she [the Sweeney's nurse] can't hear us,' Irene said. ‘Try something else'" (3). Since Jim works during the...
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