What kind of a person is Blake in "The Five-Forty-Eight" by John Cheever?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In John Cheever’s story, "The Five-Forty-Eight", the protagonist Blake is a prosperous businessman. The reader quickly understands that Blake is less the hero and more the villain in the story.

Blake uses people and then sits back and watches those people implode. In his world, Blake functions with impunity as he feeds off the people in his life who are weak. His wife, Mr. Compton, and Miss Dent---all have suffered from his indifference and mistreatment. His stalker [Miss Dent] has been trying to communicate with him for several weeks.  When Blake sees her, his reaction makes the reader aware there is going to be a confrontation:

[Blake] turned and walked toward the glass doors at the end of the lobby, feeling that faint guilt and bewilderment we experience when we by-pass some old friend or classmate who seems threadbare, or sick, or miserable in some other way.

When Miss Dent gets the job as Blake’s secretary, it is her chance to reinvent herself after her stay in the hospital (for, it turns out, mental illness). Miss Dent's work is good; and Blake sees some talent in Miss Dent, except for her handwriting.  Knowing that she has not been well, Blake abuses the employer/employee relationship by having an overnight affair with her. Then, without any thought to her well-being, he has her fired, leaving her more alone and frail than ever.

Blake is a phony who walks through life showing no pity for those who depend on him. As a white-collar worker, he thinks of himself above the riff-raff on the street. He insulates himself from any problems by covering up his weaknesses, which apparently include pornography since he has to hide his books under lock and key. The shunning of his wife makes her another victim in his long line of “I do not care about you women.”

Miss Dent’s confrontation with Blake includes a gun.  Now he is on the other side of human nature, squirming under the lights, hoping someone will notice him and come to his rescue. No one does. Miss Dent places him in the mud groveling at her feet. In her delusion, that is all that she needed to even the score. 

He fell forward in the filth. The coal skinned his face  Put your face in the dirt. Put your face in the dirt! Do what I say. Put your face in the dirt.

He got to his feet and picked up his hat from the ground where it had fallen and walked home.

Blake returns to his suburban life, having learned, it seems, nothing. Though Blake has been given the knowledge of his own deep flaws and offered the opportunity to become a different kind of person, he brushes himself off, will probably return to his foul behavior as though this incident never happened.

Read the study guide:
The Five-Forty-Eight

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