The Five-Forty-Eight

Significance of Blake and Dent in Cheever's "The Five-Forty-Eight"

John Cheever’s cynical ruminations on man’s loss of humanity in the modern world are artfully articulated in his short story “The Five-Forty-Eight” (Kennedy, 316). A brief recollection of an average man’s flight from a jilted, seemingly psychotic ex-lover in New York City to the suburbs allows Cheever to admonish the indifference, disdain, and lack of compassion he believes have infected society. The conclusion of the story offers no definitive resolution to this syndrome of hostility, which may highlight the author’s thematic position that our culture’s dissolute attitude toward respecting human dignity and value. To convey this pessimistic message, Cheever crafts and reveals the natures of two characters whose conflict is representative of the greater denigration of man.

The main characters, Mr. Blake and Miss Dent, represent the clash between the unfeeling, sardonic predilection of society and its opposition to the faltering traces of reverent goodness left in men. To achieve this via characterization, Blake – whose name, not coincidentally, sounds like “bleak” – is categorized as a self-described “insignificant man” who subscribes to the “sumptuary laws” of fashion, rendering him “undistinguished in every way… like the rest...

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