John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio” represents the enormous amount of hidden truths in American society of the 1940s. The problems with society during this time were hidden behind a facade of goodness; however, this false innocence becomes visible through the radio owned by the Westcotts. The radio causes the Westcotts to evolve from an innocent, naive pair who believe that everything they see is real, into individuals who realize that appearances are deceiving.
Cheever develops the motif of innocence by details like Irene’s “wide, fine forehead upon which nothing at all had been written” (817). Cheever also includes the fact that Irene “wore a coat of fitch skins dyed to resemble mink” (817). This is a very dishonest, not innocent, clue about the Westcott’s status. Jim’s youthfulness also represents innocence: Cheever states that “he dressed in the clothes his class had worn at Andover, and his manner was earnest, vehement and intentionally naive” (817). These innocent appearances will be recognized and reflected upon once the radio is delivered to the house.
The radio, an appropriately ugly instrument, looks “like an aggressive intruder” (817). Kendle Burton concludes from this statement that “To Irene, it is a Satanic invader of the Westcott’s world of apparent innocence” (128). Cheever writes, “The powerful and ugly instrument, with its mistaken sensitivity to discord, was more than she could hope to master” (818). This refers to the way that Irene tunes out the ugliness in her own life. Jim also tries to ignore these appearances by simply tuning them out. He explains to Irene that she does not have to listen to the radio. She can turn it off. Jim is explaining that they …
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…tting on a mask of innocence as well.
The Westcotts have lost an illusory faith in themselves and their society. Now they must begin to find a real one with each other. Nowadays this recognition of society’s horrible secrets such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, racial discrimination, domestic violence, sexism, and many more are all too vivid. The only question that remains is whether it is better to acknowledge these hidden secrets like today, or to ignore them like yesterday?
Burton, Kendle. “Cheever’s use of Mythology in ‘The Enormous Radio.’” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale , 1980.
Cheever, John. “The Enormous Radio.” Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Rupp, Richard. “Of That Time, of Those Places: The Short Stories of John Cheaper.” Short Story Criticism. Detroit: Gale, 1988.
Essay on Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery – Evils of Society Exposed
The Evils of Society Exposed in The Lottery
In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” what appears to be an ordinary day in a small town takes an evil turn when a woman is stoned to death after “winning” the town lottery. The lottery in this story reflects an old tradition of sacrificing a scapegoat in order to encourage the growth of crops. But this story is not about the past, for through the actions of the town, Jackson shows us many of the social ills that exist in our own lives.
In today’s society we often have an all too-casual attitude toward misfortune; Jackson shows us this aspect of human nature through the town’s casual attitude toward the lottery. The men talk of “rain, tractors and taxes” and the women gossip—all the time knowing they are about to kill someone or be perhaps even be killed themselves (Jackson 863). The thing that is most important to them is to hurry up and finish so they can eat lunch. Perhaps the feeling of being in a hurry makes what they’re about to do easier; they don’t have time to let it bother them. How often in today’s society do we hear the phrase, “just hurry up and get it over with”?
The townspeople seem to have mixed emotions about the lottery; they fear it yet on a very barbaric level they enjoy it. By standing “away from the pile of stones,” and keeping their distance from the black box, the villagers show their fear of the lottery (Jackson 863). However, once they find out who is going to be stoned, Tessie Hutchinson, they seem to actually enjoy the stoning. One villager picks up a stone so big she can barely carry it; someone even gives Tessie’s youngest son a few pebbles to throw at his mother. Their overall attitude about the stoning is summed up by the phrase “and then they were…
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…f their family (Jackson 867). In everyday life, we posses the same selfish attitude portrayed in the story. What is one of a child’s favorite words? It’s “mine!” We constantly say well “it’s better you than me” and “it’s every man for himself.” It’s pretty scary _when you actually think about it, because you realize we really are that selfish.
“The Lottery” is “symbolic of any number of social ills that mankind blindly perpetrates” (Friedman 108). The story is very shocking, but the reality of mankind is even more shocking. Isn’t it funny that Jackson gives us a description of our nature, and not only do we not recognize it for what it is , but it shocks us.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 989.
Friedman , Lenemgia. Shirley Jackson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.