Discuss John Cheever and the idea of performance.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In one of John Cheever's stories of suburban life he has a housewife thinking and saying the following:

“I just have this terrible feeling that I’m a character in a television situation comedy,” she said. “I mean, I’m nice-looking, I’m well-dressed, I have humorous and attractive children, but I have this terrible feeling that I’m in black-and-white and that I can be turned off by anybody. I just have this terrible feeling that I can be turned off.”
John Cheever, “A Vision of the World,” The New Yorker, September 29, 1962

Especially because of the reference to television, this seems like a modernized version of the famous lines spoken by Jaques in Shakespeare's As You Like It:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;

The feeling of being in a motion picture, a TV sit-com, or a stage play is not uncommon. Most of us have had that uncanny experience of seeming to realize that we are playing a role in a drama and that we are not really our true self (whoever he or she may be) but are only acting a part with which we are all too familiar. Audiences in Shakespeare's time must have related to Jaques' monologue as well. We adopt the roles we play, and then we are stuck with them for life. Psychologists call them "personas." They are not really "us" but the people we pretend to be.

Persona: the way you behave, talk, etc., with other people that causes them to see you as a particular kind of person : the image or personality that a person presents to other people.

Our civilized world, then, is only a great masquerade; here we meet knights, parsons, soldiers, doctors, barristers, priests, philosophers, and the rest. But they are not what they represent themselves to be; they are mere masks beneath which as a rule moneymakers are hidden. One man dons the mask of the law which he has borrowed for the purpose from his barrister, merely in order to be able to come to blows with another. Again, for the same purpose, a second chooses the mask of public welfare and patriotism; a third that of religion or religious reform. Many have already donned for all kinds of purposes the mask of philosophy, philanthropy, and so on. Women have less choice; in most cases, they make use of the mask of maidenly reserve, bashfulness, domesticity, and modesty.
--Arthur Schopenhauer

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial