Discussion Questions for John Cheever’s The Enormous Radio (1953)

cheever

John Cheever (1912-1982)
American short-story writer and novelist.
Pulitzer Prize: 1979 Fiction – The Stories of John Cheever

Discussion Questions for John Cheever’s The Enormous Radio (1953)

1.Examine the first paragraph of the short story to discuss how the narrator represents Jim and Irene Westcott in the opening paragraph of the story. For example, examine what the following might suggest about the Westcotts: a) Irene’s coat of fitch skins dyed to resemble mink b) Irene’s “wide, fine forehead upon which nothing at all had been written” c) Jim’s youthful appearance.

2.What does “Westchester” mean to the Westcotts as mentioned in the first paragraph?

3.According to the narrator, to what extent and how are the Westcotts different from their neighbors as far as the first paragraph is concerned?

4.How does the narrator describe the old radio in the second paragraph? Does the old radio reflect anything about the Westcotts?

5.How does the narrator describe the new radio? What might be the reason(s) for such a description? Why does Irene want to conceal it behind a sofa?

6.What could having the new radio fixed symbolize?

7.In what ways could the author’s choice of an apartment building as the main setting be significant for the story?

8. Examine the possible reasons(s) for Irene’s growing addiction to the new radio.

9.Discuss the symbolic value of the enormous radio in relation to the major themes of the story.

10.In the fourth paragraph of the second part of the story, the narrator makes use of “weather” and “climate” in his/her descriptions. In what way(s) could this be considered symbolic?

“As the afternoon waned, the conversations increased in intensity. From where Irene sat, she could see the open sky above the East River. There were hundreds of clouds in the sky, as though the south wind had broken the winter into pieces and were blowing it north, and on her radio she could hear the arrival of cocktail guests and the return of children and businessmen from their schools and offices.”

11.In the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (edited by Cassill, 1995), there is a reference to Socrates’s saying that the “ unexamined life is not worth living”. Discuss this in relation to the Westcotts.

12.Essay Topic: James O’Hara (in John Cheever’s Flowering Forth: The Breakthroughs of 1947, published in Modern Language Studies, Vol. 17, No. 4, Autumn, 1987), argues that “Cheever, or any storyteller, is our enormous radio, and we are the Westcotts” (p. 53). Discuss O’Hara’s statement in relation to the main issues depicted in the story.

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, August 2008

Useful links:

Listen to the story: The New Yorker Fiction
Listen to the radio play of the Enormous Radio (CBS).
About John Cheever (Pearson Longman)
An interview with John Cheever