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Written by Timothy Sexton
Appearances Are Deceiving
Before being exposed to the rather tepidly seamy underbelly of average middle-class American existence thanks to the arrival of the magical radio, the neighborhood did not seem particularly shady to the Westcott couple. After being exposed to the actual indiscretions and the thoughts that could potentially lead to greater indiscretions, the façade falls apart. Cheever goes for something deeper than merely pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is not all he claims to be. The actual noir landscape that should only have assumed to have existed all along becomes in Irene’s fertile imagination now fueled by the truth a place where where all appearance is merely a shiny patina. The real curtain that is pulled back is not on the neighbors, but on Irene’s—and, by association, the reader’s—willingness to go nuclear on the idea that nobody is what they seem. Even more to the point: everybody is probably much worse than they seem.
The Thin Skin of Respectability
The stories of the transgressions of the neighbors also serve to underline the theme of just how thin-skinned is respectability. Before the eavesdropping reveals what lies beneath the façade, not only do the neighbors appear perfectly nice, they are accepted as perfectly nice. Most of what is learned by Irene as she listens attentively to the revelations of their dark sides reveals that their neighbors are not really all that particularly dark. With each new understanding of neighbors who are overdrawn on their bank account or hit their wife, the lack of respect for every neighbor suffers. Peeling back that layer of respectability proves remarkably easy even for themselves once Jim starts reminding his wife of her own transgressions.
Opening Pandora's Box
The radio serves as a modern day Pandora’s Box that when opened, allows all the darker aspects of human nature to fly and become exposed. Once out, there’s no putting the genie back into the bottle, to mix a metaphor. The only item left in Pandora’s box was hope and even that is gone for the Westcotts. Where they once lived in blissful ignorance of the worst side of their neighbors and once casually left their own failings unexposed to the harsh light of truth, now they are aware. Their consciousness thus raised, they cannot even stop from illuminating their own examples of their darkness that flies forth from their own box no bereft of even hope for going back to happy ignorance.
"The Enormous Radio" seems like the kind of story that Alfred Hitchcock might adapted for his TV series if not necessarily for a feature film. The element of creepy voyeurism is a palpable thematic concern. Not only are the protagonists of the story practicing voyeurs as they listen in on private conversations of neighbors, but ultimately every reader can be found guilty of the same offense. The reader is peeking into the window of the Westcott home and enjoying every bit as much voyeuristic pleasure at seeing the woes of others put on display for their entertainment. It is Rear Window without the murder.
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I think that the radio being the centerpiece of entertainment gives us the idea that this is largely a pre-television era. I don't think the setting was memorable to me other than setting up the exposition of the story.
I find the story rather sad and prophetic. In this day and age of social media, people seem quite willing to build their lives as an illusion. The young couple can represent most anyone on Facebook who finds validation in perpetuating the image of...
There is, among the middle class and socially "comfortable", a sense of desperation and irony. Cheevers builds the darker side of the new American dream. Although the Westcotts appear to be contented with their middle afluence there is an...