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"The Enormous Radio"

Page history last edited by Dustin Box 7 years, 6 months ago


"The Enormous Radio" by John Cheever




Plot Summary


            "The Enormous Radio" follows the story of Jim and Irene Westcott whose old radio has just broken. The husband Jim replaces their old radio with a new model that at first intimidates Mrs. Westcott due to its many dials and ugliness. It also picks up other electrical signals such as telephone calls, elevator bells, and kitchen appliances, so Mr. Westcott has a repairman come out and fix it.

            Once it is repaired, Mrs. Westcott notices during dinner that she is now able to pick up conversations in the surrounding apartments. She and her husband enjoy this on the first night, but Mrs. Westcott soon becomes obsessed with listening to the conversations due to many of their sordid natures. Mr. Westcott begins to notice a change in his wife’s attitude and demeanor at dinner that night.

            The next day, his wife is hysterical about a case of domestic violence in one of the surrounding apartments she overheard. The couple argues about his wife’s obsession with listening to something that is causing her anxiety, and he decides to have the radio fixed the next day.

            Mr. Westcott comes home the following evening and discusses the financial troubles they are experiencing. Mrs. Westcott interjects, afraid that someone on the radio may be listening, and Mr. Westcott argues that due to her past deviance, she has no room for being “Christly” all of a sudden. Mrs. Westcott goes to the radio and changes the station, and the broadcaster announces a tragedy and the weather.



Meryl Streep's reading of "The Enormous Radio"



Scholarly Summaries


     In “Cheever's Use of Mythology in 'The Enormous Radio'” Burton Kendle compares Cheever's story to the biblical story of Eve in the Garden of Eden. This can be seen as the radio being a source of information, and the apple coming from the tree of knowledge.

     Kendle begins by showing Irene and Jim's innocence as being compared to the purity of Adam and Eve. This is done in Cheever's writing by exploring their physical appearances, and by showing the radio as being the intruder that disrupts their otherwise happy and ignorant life. Once the radio begins showing its abilities, Irene is at first troubled by it's presence, just as Eve was before accepting the fruit. Once she is fully enticed, the ideas that the radio implants in her head cause her to question things, such as her friend's secrets. Kendle also argues that after this, she is forced to question both her own goodness, as well as society's.

     Once the damage has been done, Kendle shows that the original interpretation of their Edenic sanctuary has been changed like that of the actual Garden. Once Irene fully succumbed to the radio, she and her husband can no longer go back to how they were, like Eve and Adam being banished from the Garden of Eden. The article ends by acknowledging the symbolism of not the battle between good and evil, but of the end of innocence and the beginning of Irene and Jim's self awareness.


      Henrietta Ten Harmsel uses her article, "'Young Goodman Brown' and 'The Enormous Radio',” to compare the character's realizations of their societies' moral ambiguities. She begins by dismissing Kendal Burton's analysis that “The Enormous Radio” is about an Edenic society, and begins her thesis that it is more closely related to the society in “Young Goodman Brown.”

     She begins by comparing Goodman Brown and Irene Westcott's belief that they should delve no further into the evils they are encountering. Goodman's trip through the forest and Irene's listening to the radio are contested by each character and initially they shun each. However, soon enough, each realizes that they have become entranced by their journeys and that they can no longer go back willingly.

     The next paragraph compares the climax of the finished journey to the sabbath in the forest and the Osborn's fight as being the event that changes each characters future perspectives. Both the radio, and the devil figure are gone, but the lasting realizations of the corrupt societies they live in are ingrained in each person so much so that they are incapable of living and thinking as they did before.

     Lastly, Harmsel elaborates on the perversion of each character's society, including the realization that Cheever sees technology as being a major factor in the disruption of human communication. Each character has paid a price for this knowledge and will never be the same again.​


     In “The Silver Lining: Uncovering Greyness from John Cheever's Stories,” the authors argue that while John Cheever's stories are usually about dark subject matter such as divorce, adultery, alcoholism and the social discontents and conflicts of his generation, that every one of his stories has a silver lining.

     The authors begin by summarizing Cheever's writing style and his importance as “the chronicler of suburbia.” They then continue by examining several of his stories and how his faith as a Christian influences much of his work. They also believe that throughout Cheever's works, “the hope that fear and evil are surface cracks that have not eroded the foundational pillars of human faith” is the key to understanding the themes he writes about.

     The true meaning of Cheever's work is theorized as being not about what is done, but the realizations that come usually at the end of his stories. That the terrible things that happen do so to give the characters knowledge that they did not have before.​


Critical Analysis

     John Cheever’s short story “The Enormous Radio” is a modern retelling of the Bible’s story of Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3.1-24). While Henrietta Ten Harmsel has brought up Goodman Brown and Irene Westcott’s similar journeys and character arcs in her article “'Young Goodman Brown' and 'The Enormous Radio',” Irene’s gained knowledge is more closely related to the Genesis story. This is seen in the transfer of information between Eve and the serpent and Irene and the Radio.

     In the sender and receiver model for communication, a sender passes information along a pathway to the receiver, who inputs the data and makes a decision on how to respond, effectively becoming a sender as well. The serpent did not trick Eve. The serpent sent information to Eve and she made a choice in how she responded to it. The serpent asked a question, and when Eve answered, he told her the truth: “You will not die,” said the serpent. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, ‘knowing good and evil’” (Gen. 3.4-5). This simple symbol of the desire for knowledge is mirrored in Irene’s discovery of the magical properties of the radio. After she and her husband learn the true properties of the radio, and its implications of knowing things that ought not be known, Irene says, “I guess she can’t hear us,” and then, “try something else” (Norton 253). Her continuing to listen to the radio is proof that it was her decision to accept the words of the radio as truth, just as Eve’s touching and eventual eating of the fruit was her choice and not coercion by the serpent.

     After his wife has changed from the knowledge she received from the radio, Jim Westcott can be seen as an Adam figure due to his inability to return to his “earnest, vehement, and intentionally naïve” personality. Once her eyes are opened to the tragedies, secret desires, falsehoods, gossip, and quarrels of those around her, she in unable to live in her ignorant state anymore. Had she not obsessed over the new information, or simply gotten rid of the radio, she and her husband could return to their lives as they were living before. The altercation between the couple in apartment 16-C is the breaking point in the story and can be paralleled in God’s discovery that the fruit from the tree of knowledge has been eaten (Norton 256, Gen. 3.8-14). After God learns that Eve was the one who took the fruit and shared it with Adam, he goes on to decree a list of maladies that will now affect the couple and removes them from the Garden of Eden. Jim’s discovery of knowledge comes from the bill he learns Irene did not pay. After this, he goes on to decree, “We’ve got to start cutting down.” A talk with his boss informed him that the company is not doing as well as it should be. The things they are spending money on are frivolous and Irene needs to take more accountability for her spending. This knowledge gained by Jim, and the decree he sets down shows how his acquisition of knowledge has forever changed the way that the couple interacts with each other.

     The comparisons between Eve and Irene, their taking of knowledge they were not supposed to have, and their husbands being affected by the women’s actions, show that “The Enormous Radio” is a modern retelling of the story of Eve in the Garden with the serpent. Cheever updates the story to put into perspective that the morals of Biblical writings are just as significant today as they were when they were first told. The quest for knowledge is a vital one, but what the seeker may find could change their lives and have unintended consequences they were not expecting. 


Film Version



The television show Tales from the Darkside reinterprets

Cheever's story and brings it to TVs around the nation.

Works Cited


Access Bible, The. New Revised Standard Version with the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical Books. Updated ed. Gail R. O'Day, David Peterson, gen. ed.

    Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. 52-53. Print.


Cheever, John. "The Enormous Radio." The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction 7th ed. Ed. Richard Bausch and R.V. Cassill.

     New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 250-258. Print.


Farhadiba, Dr. Khan. Mohammed, Dr. Mahameed. "The Silver Lining: Uncovering Greyness from John Cheever's Stories."

     Revista Letra Magna. Lingüística e Literatura: September 2007. Online. 


Harmsel, Henrietta Ten. "'Young Goodman Brown' and 'The Enormous Radio'." Studies in Short Fiction:

     Fall 1972. 407-408. Online.


Kendle, Burton. "Cheever's Use of Mythology in 'The Enormous Radio'." Studies in Short Fiction:

     Spring 1967. 262-264. Online.


Image References



Woman with radio: http://johnesimpson.com/images/enormousradio_03.jpg


Caricature of Cheever: http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/archive/2009/03/1_123125_122946_2207169_2213110_090311_book_cheevertn.jpg.CROP.original-original.jpg




Comments (6)

Kenneth Brewer said

at 11:22 am on Apr 20, 2015

With order of Works Cited, "The" doesn't count, so *Access Bible* goes first, above Cheever. Italicize scholarly journal titles. MLA does not use "pg" for page numbers or "p."

Ram Laska said

at 6:59 pm on Apr 20, 2015

Really clean layout, I love the pictures and the Meryl Streep reading you found.

Some grammatical tips:
I couldn't find the Kendle article to see how he referred to the Adam & Eve story, but there isn't really a formal name for it (other than Genesis chapter x, verse y), so the name probably shouldn't be quoted (unless he's referring to a story written about the story of Adam and Eve, and not the story in the bible itself).
Also, you need to change the three "it's" into "its" (it is, rather than it's (possessive)). Easy mistake to make.
“Young Goodman Brown” and “The Enormous Radio” should probably be “'Young Goodman Brown' and 'The Enormous Radio'" (nested quotes: double quote around the article name, single quotes around the quoted stories' individual names).
Evil's should be Evils (plural, not possessive).
"After her and her husband" should be "After she and her husband"
"need’s" and "show’s" should be "needs" and "shows" (not possessive)

Good analysis overall. You might want to reorder the first sentence of the third paragraph of your analysis to make it easier to read (you're listing a lot of evidence, and then making a claim. If you don't want to make the claim first, you might have a shorter list of evidence, the claim, and then more evidence in another sentence immediately afterward.

Mollie said

at 9:37 pm on Apr 20, 2015

Wow, that makes perfect sense that it is a retelling of the Genesis story. I would say that Cheever is a little more forgiving of Irene than people have been of Eve. Women have been getting blamed for everything since Eve tempted Adam with the apple. At the end of the story it is like Irene and Jim are in a sense naked as all of their sins are exposed. Irene, however, seems ashamed while Jim does not. Did you read the article Brewer posted about Cheever's "The Swimmer" as a retelling of Dante's Inferno? Cheever does seem to like those moral messages, doesn't he?

Dustin Box said

at 6:50 pm on Apr 22, 2015

Ram: Thanks for the grammatical help! I also changed around the third sentence and I believe it does sound better now.

Mollie: I have been rereading Genesis and I don't believe that Adam was tempted at all by Eve. The Gen. 3.6 says, "she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate." I have always wondered why people have judged her so harshly, when he was right there with her and did not try to stop her. Also, I did not read the "The Swimmer" article, but will make sure to look it up. Thanks!

Ram Laska said

at 3:01 pm on Apr 24, 2015

I totally agree. Adam was doing the equivalent of drinking a bud and watching the game while Eve was being tempted -- physically present, mentally gone. Derelict!
And men have been blaming women since. :P

Kenneth Brewer said

at 9:24 am on May 6, 2015

Looks very good. Proofread one more time--for example, with the caption at the end, it's just TVs, not possessive.

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