John Cheever Brief Bio
John Cheever lived from 1912 to 1982. He stood next to his dad during the Great Depression as his father's factory suffered in the 1930's. Cheever's first published work Expelled was identical to his own expulsion for smoking and poor grades. Interestingly enough authors that succeed are not always successful in school. Cheever served in the army for four years in WWII. His experiences of war and the depression act as a backdrop to his stories. He uses it to depict the way people live. "Cheever Country" summarizes the way Cheever writes. In his stories, characters are average and end up being put through a bad situation but are not completely brought back to their average life. "Cheever Counrty" also stresses marital relationships that are brought to a decline. Cheever was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his compilation of short stories, The Stories of John Cheever in 1979. John Cheever's self image declined through alcohol abuse. During recovery, his stories revealed struggles through prison and his addictions. He died of cancer. Posthumously, a final short story, Oh What a Paradise it Seems, was published. The title of this story is ironic to the circumstances of his death.
The Enormous Radio. The Stories of John Cheever.
Irene and Jim Westcott are an upper-class family for a few reasons; they received satisfactory income, lived in a twelfth floor apartment with two kids, and in their spare times enjoyed going to the theatre. They were wealthy enough to go to “…the theatre on an average of 10.3 times a year” (Cheever, pp 33). Their great interest in music led them to listening to the radio in their spare time. Eventually a new radio came. “The physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet” (pp 33) foreshadows what is to come. Its bulkiness serves not only as an intruder to the living room, but also as an “aggressive intruder” (pp 34) to the lives of the Westcott’s financially and socially. It did not play music very well; instead, it played other people’s conversations from rooms of the building.
Turned Dial to Station Apartment 16-C
John Cheever grew up in a wealthy family. When the 1930s came along, the Great Depression wiped out his father’s fortune and factory. His mom brought money in by working in a pawn shop. The problems that would rise in any family at this historic time did in Cheever’s family. They could survive off Cheever’s first few jobs and eventually his published stories. Cheever worked his families past into the backdrop of his stories, such as witnessing his father’s business filter through the grates. The common theme to continue to survive and live during incompetent times is in his short story the “Enormous Radio” when other people’s lives blind Irene to what is happening to her own lifestyle.
The music that the radio brought to Irene’s ears was a different kind of music. At first, she was furious at what their oh-so-grand radio played. It played a number of people in the apartment building having problems, which Irene tells her husband:
Mr. Hutchinson says they don’t have enough money. And some woman in this building is having an affair with the handyman- with that hideous handyman…And Mrs. Melville has heart trouble and Mr. Hendricks is going to lose his job in April… and that girl who plays the ‘Missouri Waltz’ is a whore…(39-40).
Whenever Irene would turn the radio on, it would be a neighbor. She grew attached to listening to the radio similar to how today’s society comes home and watches favorite TV shows. When she would come home, she would turn the radio on instantly possessed by it. The radio began to consume her life at home because she was interested in her neighbor’s lives similarly, how Cheever was affected by alcoholism at the end of his years.
The radio begins to reveal the problems behind it. Jim comes home one night to Irene sobbing over the latest apartment sitcom. Irene realizes that one of the problems everyone is having is money. “Everybody’s been quarreling. They’re all worried about money.” This foreshadows what will happen to the Westcott’s and their family radio.Irene wonders herself if that could happen to the Irene and Jim asking him:
“Life is too terrible, too sordid and awful. But we’ve never been like that, have we, darling? …We’re happy, aren’t we, darling?...And we’re not hypercritical or worried about money or dishonest, are we?” (pp 40).
Jim comforts her and tells her that everything is okay. As Irene begins to understand what is wrong, Cheever begins to show sympathy for the character at her degrading moment so readers understand the characterization of his characters-in this case hopefulness to lead a good life. “Cheever writes about characters difficult to forgive, but he usually forgives them…” (Irving, pp 121).
While Irene listened to the radio, she did not think about what was happening to her family. Jim did not tell her the truth. In fact, they were beginning a time of money disparity. Jim explains the financial economic situation to Irene after he reveals to Irene what problems they are having; “You’ve got to understand that we won’t have as much money this year as we had last… No one is buying anything” (pp 41). They spent four-hundred dollars on a new radio that did not play neighbor’s lives, and Irene had not paid clothing bills. Jim does not enjoy to “see all of [his] energies, all of [his] youth, wasted in fur coats and radios and slipcovers…” (pp 41) the luxuries they enjoy. Irene learns here to keep her nose out of other people’s business and open her eyes to what is happening in front of her. She needs to begin to “think of the children”(pp 41). Jim tries to tell her to be more appreciative of what they have.
In “The Enormous Radio,” Irene keeps living through hard times by using the radio distracting her from the family’s reality. The Westcott’s economy was suffering, and Irene used the Radio to relieve herself, although she did not know what was going on. The common theme to continue to survive and live during incompetent times is in his short story the “Enormous Radio” when other people’s lives blind Irene to what is happening to her own lifestyle.
The Swimmer, The Stories of John Cheever
In The Swimmer, the protagonist swims his way home across his neighbor’s pools. Summer passes, and he becomes weaker of muscle strain, and observation of alcohol consumption at neighborhood parties he passes. Cheever too, became weaker of age and alcohol consumption
Scissor Kicking His Way...Home
Swimming across the pages of The Swimmer is the protagonist. Cheever interrupts the protagonist’s “suburban Eden” (Pulitzer Prize Winners, par 14) with problems of alcohol- and when he is finished swimming, financial issues. Cheever illustrates a depressing suburban approach during a time of personal struggle as the same problems sidestroke across The Swimmer to bring a plot to a final stop at the protagonist’s destination.
The protagonist, Neddy Merrill swam eight miles across the suburban neighborhood pools to get home one summer. He did not give his wife any detail except that “he was going to swim home” (Cheever, pp 604). The suburban setting gave Neddy the accessibility to roam. He would go golfing, play tennis, hike along the river, he had four ideal daughters, a wife he loved, and of course, he swam in his neighbor’s lots of hedge fences. As he passed by each house, Neddy stopped for a drink.
Cheever only lets the reader know when time passes by how many stops Neddy makes as he maps out in his mind who he is passing “First there were the Grahams, the hammers, the Lears, the Howlands, and the Crosscups” (604). As he journeys home, he drinks a lot and there are signs that he may have ruined his marriage:
It was his fourth or fifth drink, and he had swum nearly half the length of the Lucinda River. He felt tired, clean, and pleased at the moment to be alone; pleased with everything. (604)
This quote foreshadows what Ned finds at home. Cheever used scenes of drinking, beer, and being drunk in The Swimmer. Cheever rehabbed for his alcohol usage and so many scenes in this short story symbolize the time he was rehabilitating. Cheever found a different way to adhere from drinking by using Ned and his swimming across the neighborhood. He and Ned grew tired. The Lucinda River is a river that he named after his wife; he was very tired of the long journey with Lucinda, which he feels like he swam. It also becomes stormy and Ned was disappointed also, that some of his neighbors’ lots were desolate. As “he went around to go to the driveway in front he saw a for sale sign nailed to a tree” (607). The stormy setting also sets the tone of foreshadowing what will happen when he gets home.
As Ned goes home, he passes the Hallorans who were suspicious of being communists also helping the reader to know the time of the setting. Ned tells Mrs. Halloran that “[He’s] swimming across the country” (608) and identifies that he had completely let go of his home. Mrs. Halloran at this point new more than Ned of what was happening back at home, as he swam his summer away forgetting the time:
“We’ve been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortunes, Neddy… Why, we heard that you’d sold the house and that your poor children…”
After this encounter, Ned became weaker. Cheever characterizes Ned’s health in detail. Not only did his body become weaker but his mental state was too. Cheever expresses Ned’s weakness to having a drink of Whiskey because he “needed a stimulant” (609) Ned finally came home and was confused to a point that it was “certainly the first time in his life that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired and bewildered” (612)
Cheever lets time pass over the summer quickly. His alcohol problems were in this story too. Ned would swim away from life. He swam from his family, and tried to get away from alcohol. But when he did, he would have a drink and the result of swimming so long left his family in financial disparity. This connects Cheever’s history to the story from experiences of the Great Depression and the last twenty years of alcoholism. He illustrates a depressing suburban approach during a time of personal struggle as the same problems sidestroke across “The Swimmer” to bring a plot to a final stop at the protagonist’s destination.
Irving, John. Contemporary Literary Criticism Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1978. 121
Typer, Anne. Contemporary Literary Criticism Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1978. 121
Cheever, John. "The Enormous Radio." The Stories of John Cheever. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1978.
Cheever, John. "The Geometry of Love." The Stories of John Cheever. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1978.
Cheever, John. "The Swimmer." The Stories of John Cheever. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1978.
John Cheever. 2007. Pulitzer Prize Winners. 2 Dec. 2008. 
John Cheever Literary Lifelines. 2 vols. Conneticut: Grolier Educational, 1998.
Plotnik, Rod and Kouyoumdjian, Haig. Introduction to Psychology. 8th Ed. United States: Thomas Wadsworth, 2008.