Good vs. Evil in John Cheever's The Five-Forty-Eight
John Cheever was an award winning American author of the twentieth century. His work often possessed 'psychological and religious vision' with central themes of 'sin, deception, and redemption' (Kennedy, 551). Cheever's short story entitled 'The Five-Forty-Eight' portrays a struggle of good vs. evil. Following the themes of sin, deception, and redemption, we read of a young woman (good) seeking revenge for the evil done to her. Through the course of the story the reader can distinguish between the traits of good and evil.
The Webster's dictionary defines evil as 'that which is morally wrong.' Blake has some distinct morality issues. Blake, the evil force in the story, possesses many character flaws that are indicative of the force he portrays. He is self-absorbed, manipulative, and shallow and has isolated himself from his friends and family. Blake sacrifices his relationships to give into his sexual desires, which is our first indication of his evil streak. He sleeps with Mrs. Dent, his secretary, and proceeds to fire her. As a result of Blake?s many one night of stands, in which he manipulates women to sleep with him, he loses his wife, son, and friends. He is so incredibly shallow and self-involved that he married his wife for her beauty alone; he has no attraction to her in her old age. He does not even pretend to love his wife ?the physical charms that had been her only attraction were gone? (554). His neighbors and friends hear of the evil Blake has done to his own wife, and as a result they reject Blake as a friend. His self-involved attitude prevents him from caring that he has no companions. When his neighbor, Mrs. Compton, cannot give him a genuine smile, we read that ?the swift death of Mrs. Compton?s smile did not affect him at all? (554). His ?evil? self-consumption prevents him from caring whether or not people accept him.
His relationships are not the only area of his life that we see Blake?s evil nature rise. There are subtle hints of his self obsession throughout Cheever?s story. Early on in the story, Blake is admiring himself in a plate glass window and sees himself with ?a clear reflection? and the crowds ?like shadows at his back? (551). He then sees Mrs. Dent as a ?contorted being? (551) in the same window. Blake sees himself as a flawless creature of complete perfection with the mass of city pedestrians as a blur behind his faultlessness, and he can easily pick out the imperfections in other individuals. He sees himself as the ultimate perfection, instead of seeing the negative impact he has on his friends and family. His negative interactions with friends and family are the evil force that breaks his relationships. There is no mention of any moral actions performed by him.
We find yet another example of Blake?s immoral actions through his self-conceit. He fails to comfort a crying Mrs. Dent, ?he felt too contented and warm and sleepy to worry about her...