Jim and Irene Westcott seem to be ordinary people with no peculiarities. Their lives resemble the lives of their neighbors in many aspects. For example, all of them are married, have two children, go to the theater, and hope to live in a better place (Cheever 1). Westcotts appearance could also be described as standard because it does not catch the eye. Nonetheless, Jim and Irene are profoundly interested in “serious music,” attending concerts, and “listening to music on the radio” (Cheever 1). From this, it could be inferred that the neighbors of Westcotts are either indifferent to music or prefer pop songs or use the radio to listen to the news.
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Cheever depicts the radio as “an old instrument, sensitive, unpredictable, and beyond repair” (1). Sometimes Jim managed to fix it by “striking the side of the cabinet with his hand,” and, in other cases, Jim’s efforts were fruitless (Cheever 1). The old radio reflects a lot about the family of the Westcotts. Firstly, the fact that they use old radio that could break down at any second shows that Jim and Irene are afraid of changes. Secondly, the Westcotts are old-fashioned because they prefer old items, such as radio and classical music, that are no longer popular nowadays. Thirdly, the fact that they do not know how the radio works and do not try to learn how to fix it shows that they are frivolous.
The first thing that Cheever mentions about the new radio is that it is physically ugly and evil and has a lot of buttons, the function of which is not clear (1). Its ugliness lies in the fact that it does not fit the living room that Irene carefully arranged so that all colors match together (Cheever 1). One of the possible reasons for such an unpleasant description is that this way new radio is contrasted with the old one. Irene wants to conceal the new radio behind the sofa because she would only hear the wonderful music without watching the hideous gadget. Indeed, this might have been an excellent solution to the problem because the new radio has no malfunction. Nonetheless, Irene’s idea failed because, in addition to being physically unattractive, the new radio plays music with noise because it is immensely sensitive to “electrical currents of all sorts” (Cheever 1).
The fixed radio became a starting point for the changes in the life of Jim and Irene Westcotts. Even though the master eventually fixed the radio, it ceased to play music as usual (Cheever 2). Instead, the radio broadcasted their neighbors’ conversations (Cheever 3). These conversations contain the deepest secrets that were supposed to be kept hidden by their owners. It is interesting to notice that the new fixed radio makes the Westcotts realize that all is not gold that glitters, and every person has dark secrets. Additionally, the ability of radio to broadcast what the neighbors say shows that truth always comes out no matter how strongly one tries to hide it.
The major themes of Cheever’s story are privacy, concealment, and the power or ability to interfere in other people’s private lives. As a symbol, the radio shows that nothing could be kept secret forever. Radio per se is a thing that informs the audience of what other people say and do. Therefore, it is interesting to notice how John Cheever covered the issue of hiding secrets using such an item as a radio. Besides, the radio could be viewed as a symbol that everyone wears a mask and plays a role of a nice person to hide the bitter truth. Maybe this new radio was lying to the Westcotts by playing music, and its mask was torn off after it was repaired.
Cheever, John. The Enormous Radio. 1947.