Classic literature contains a story or lesson that has the ability to relate to a reader of any generation and is also pertinent to present day life. The short story “The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever could easily be considered a classic work of literature. It illustrates the lives of the stereotypical American family and the way they go about entertainment in mid 1900’s. In our present day, many use television as their main form of entertainment to escape from the stress and worries of everyday life.
Currently in the world today, mainly the United States, reality TV has taken over as one of the most popular genres of television shows. People use these reality TV shows as a getaway from their own lives. There are some people watch these shows wishing it was them who was rich and famous or had their own program on MTV, and picture themselves in the places of the people they see on the screen.
Others use it to compare their own lives often times believing they are better than the things they see on tv and the way people act on tv and get pleasure from other people’s fame. Cheever takes reality entertainment to a whole new level. The short story, “The enormous Radio” was far ahead of its time in that it illustrates the way reality TV would have been back then for the Westcott family in a much more raw and uncensored view of things.
It is as if John Cheever knew that someday people would be able to turn on their TV and witness the shortcomings and wrongdoings of someone else’s life and he illustrates what that would be like 60 years ago in his story. The story begins with the Westcott family appearing to be a very stereotypical 1950’s American family. It seems right away that they do not posses any major flaws that would cause the reader to think any differently about them.
Cheever begins to describe them as, “the kind of people who seem to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability”. He also mentions that they have a passion for music and attend many shows which is very unlike their neighbors in the apartment building. In fact they hide the fact that they do those things from everyone they know. This love of music is also the reason for the radio they have in their apartment.
The old radio stopped working properly so Jim, one of the main characters and the father of the family, decided to buy a brand new one for his wife, Irene. The first thing that Irene notices about the radio is that it is very ugly and does not match her living room at all. “she was struck at once with the physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet.” She even describes the radio itself as “an aggressive intruder”.
This moment in the story foreshadows the fact that the radio is out of place in their lives and should never have been there in the first place. Using the word “intruder” to describe the radio is not far from accurate because it has the ability to intrude on other people’s personal p
rivacy. The radio does not work well at first, picking up on random noise and interference from around the apartment building. Both Irene and Johnson are alarmed at what they hear, but little did they know this would only be the beginning of their problems. The real issues with it begin when the radio fails to play music and instead acts as a device that can eavesdrop on other tenants living in the apartment building.
The story becomes very ironic in that the Westcotts are as flawed as the rest of society and the community they try to conform to. The story illustrates not only how technology can have a negative impact on American families, but it also shows how humans crave the reality of other peoples lives. Scandal, secrets, and gossip are The story begins to get interesting when the things they start hearing from the radio start to become more and more serious. Jim and Irene act like they are completely normal and do things the way the average American family is supposed to.
It seems they listen to the radio as an escape from the stress of city living and their everyday lives. The radio acts as a portal into the personal lives of everyone living in the building. Irene’s first response is not to keep it on because she thinks the neighbors can hear them as well only caring for her own well being.
Soon, Irene begins to take pleasure in eavesdropping on her neighbors, but this perverse fascination soon gives way to anapprehensiveness and even defensiveness on the part of Irene, whotoo insistently maintains that she and Jim are innocent of thehypocrisy, fearfulness, and financial troubles that afflict their neighbors. Ironically, her knowledge of their lives and misfortunes eventually causes friction in her own marriage
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