“The Enormous Radio” is a short story written by John Cheever in 1947. It first appeared in the May 17, 1947 issue of The New Yorker and was later collected in The Enormous Radio and Other Stories. The story deals with a family who purchases a new radio that allows them to listen in on conversations and arguments of other tenants living in their apartment building.
According to Alan Lloyd Smith, author of American Gothic Fiction – An Introduction ISBN 0-8264-1595-4, a concept of domestic abjection is one that “disturbs identity, order, and system”. This is exactly what the new radio did in the Westcott household. When Mrs. Westcott saw the new radio in the large gumwood cabinet, she did not like the enormousness of it. The Gumwood cabinet is a “dark” cabinet and did not fit in with the living room furnishings and colors that Irene had personally chosen. This cabinet is dark and ugly, bringing darkness into the living room and their lives. Eventually, Irene identifies herself with the object.
Another gothic concept of The Enormous Radio is the element of buried secrets. Both Jim and Irene begin to recognize that there is tension in their marriage. Irene had many deep dark secrets that she feels guilty about. She has successfully hidden these secrets all these years until the ugliness of the radio brings up her neighbors problems. Irene has suppressed and hidden her feelings to others and herself for a long time. This is the reason she is drawn to the radio, it exposes the inner life of others and eventually hers. Irene identified with the others in the building as her own problems. It is ironic that the thing purchased to bring joy to the Westcott’s life did nothing but cause trouble between them. Secrets revealed are sometimes not able to be handled well.
Alan Lloyd Smith also identifies Domestic Gothic as, intimately bound up with the idea of the house, gender, and family, which becomes through metaphor, a way of externalizing the inner life of fictional characters.
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