The Enormous Radio

by John Cheever

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What is the significance of music in 'The Enormous Radio' and how does it contribute to the plot and theme?

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"The Enormous Radio" is different from most of John Cheever's short stories because of its fantasy style. It was written in the days before television and before the flight to the suburbs from Manhattan; it reflects the time when people lived in apartments and used their radios for news and entertainment. The use of music in the story is for the purpose of achieving verisimilitude. Radios were used more for listening to music than for any other purpose. Cheever wants the reader to believe that the private conversations the Westcotts are hearing are actually coming over a big radio. (Orson Welles used music in a similar manner when he broadcast the famous program about the Martian invasion. Hemingway featured the radio in his story "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.") The simultaneous broadcast of music to many apartments in the big Manhattan buildings creates the impression that many married couples seem like the Westcotts in their tastes, manners, clothes, and overt behavior but are comparably unhappy and frustrated with their lives and with each other. These same people appear in Cheever's later stories, but they have moved to houses in the upscale suburbs, joined country clubs, and are doing a lot more drinking.

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