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 looking in windows" (Cheever 822). All of the arguments, anger, and affairs were foretold by the radio. But although it depresses her, Irene continues to listen. In her obsession with the radio she fails to realize how her life was pertinent to the lives of her neighbors. Smith states that Irene becomes "so involved in her neighbors’ predicaments, she fails to recognize her own" (59). She had deceived herself and everyone else into thinking that life was different from those around her. Not only does she have blindfolds on, but she seeks constant reassurance from Jim that their lives are not like those of her neighbors.
After listening to all her neighbors’ problems one day, she cries for Jim’s reassurance that they are happy and content. She tells Jim that, "Mrs. Hutchinson’s mother is dying of cancer," and "Mr. Hendricks is going to lose his job in April" (822). She wants Jim to reassure her that their life is not like their neighbors, so she asks Jim, "And we’re not hypercritical or worried about money or dishonest, are we?"...