How does Cheever go about emphasizing the absolute ordinariness and quality of being an average American couple in portraying Jim and Irene? Why do you think this is important?
Cheever turns to the type of governmental statistical indicators that reduces individuality down to impossible mathematical equations like having 2.5 children or which allow for uncomplicated cultural or societal stereotyping. The information that after nine years of marriage they have produced just two children would at the time have been an instant statistical indicator of the likelihood of their not being Catholic while their habit of going out to see a play slightly less than once a month carries certain connotations of income and educational levels. The important of stressing that Jim and Irene lead very similar lives to tens of millions of other Americans has the effect of normalizing them. The more normal Jim and Irene are made to seem, the more realistic the story’s inexplicable supernatural elements are made to seem.
How is the enormous, seemingly magic radio and its impact on those who listen to it just like any other radio found inside the home?
What really goes on inside the home of the Westcotts when Jim brings home a new radio? They tune in and receive news about other people. Just like as with any other radio, the news that dominates transmission is that which reveals the ugly truth outside the protective cocoon which a home represents. Home is security from the evils on the other side of the front door, but radio signals are easily capable of bypassing that protective agency. One people have been exposed to the unpleasant new information, they are changed forever. In the cast of Westcotts, the only real different is that the unpleasant truth which they now know relates not to stranger, but neighbors.
What kind of almost tragically ironic revelation about the nature of voyeurism does the story ultimately make?
Voyeurism, by definition, is the pursuit of pleasure by peeking into the privacy of others without their intrusion being revealed. Listening to the constant barrage of transmissions directly from the homes of other is a rather exotic form of eavesdropping behind partially opened doors or peeping through barely closed curtains, but it is all the same. Without the promise or expectation of the experience being pleasurable in some way, such actions would not be so common. At the same time, the very need to become a voyeur indicates that what is being seen is private and not for public consumption, indicating an inherent quality of embarrassment in the act being spied upon. Exposure to that which others do not want being known or seen inevitably result in self-knowledge. The Westcotts arrive at a state of knowledge about the things they want to keep private which was a lot easier to suppress or ignore before public engagement with their neighbors mandated seeing through them their most private truths. Voyeurism begins as an attempt to find pleasure in stealing the privacy of others, but almost always ends with having to look closer as what you want to keep private about yourself.
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