Essay #1 – ENG 130: An Analysis of John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio”
Due: Friday, March 6 (hard copy, at the beginning of class: extensions not possible)
Length: Roughly 4 pages, double-spaced (Work Cited at the end does not need to be on a
separate page, but you must include one: see p. 1131 for a model of the Work Cited)
Topic: Privacy in “The Enormous Radio” (pp. 290-297)
We live in an age in which privacy is compromised, even menaced. Don’t look behind
you, but there’s a camera in this classroom. Your phone (put it away!) is a surveillance device
that you actually pay for! Did you set up touch i.d. on it? You’ve been fingerprinted, my friend.
How does YouTube know that you’ve been thinking about buying new shoes? Did your
grandmother trace her heritage by sending a saliva sample to 23-and-me? You’re now in a DNA
database. Bluetooth beacons? Google it. Face recognition software? Don’t get me started.
Our current technological moment is terrifying when it comes to privacy, but the
concept has always been a vexed one in American life. On the one hand, Americans are
committed to individualism and we believe that every citizen has an inalienable right to live his
or her life away from the judging eyes of others. On the other hand, there are clear
expectations or “norms” in American life that encourage our public selves to behave or perform
in a certain way, and deviation produces suspicion.
John Cheever’s 1947 story “The Enormous Radio” engages with the ethics of the debate
over privacy. Jim and Irene Westcott, the protagonists, buy a radio that somehow has the
capacity to eavesdrop on their neighbors. In your first major essay, advance an argument that
states your interpretation of the story’s theme with regard to privacy. Essentially, what
statement does Cheever’s story make (indirectly) about privacy from your perspective? In order
to arrive at your articulation of this theme, focus on one of the elements of fiction we will have
covered before spring break (character, plot, point of view, setting, symbolism, style, tone, or
irony) to build your argument, and provide ample textual evidence as you develop it.
Do not consult any secondary sources on the Internet or in the library as you write your
paper. I am well aware of how Sparknotes, eNotes, Schmoop, and other similar sources have
interpreted the story, and I don’t find these interpretations to be insightful, original, or
particularly smart. I am only interested in what you have to say about the story’s theme with
regard to privacy, and any evidence that you have consulted sources like those without citing
them constitutes plagiarism (a costly no-no: see syllabus).
Helpful hints: pages 1089-1105 provide important guidelines about how to write about
literature. Pages 1106-1108 are even more specific about the elements of fiction that are the
subject of this assignment. I am available during my office hours each week to help you with
your draft: bring me whatever you have at any stage of the writing process. (These would have
to be face-to-face sessions, not email exchanges). I suggest beginning with the element of
fiction (character, plot, etc.) that most interests you and exploring that element prior to coming
up with the statement of theme (which will essentially be your thesis). Your thesis, though it
generally shows up at the end of the introductory paragraph, is actually a conclusion:
eventually, your thesis should be as conclusive and definite as it can possibly be. Final hint:
begin early and give yourself time to revise a series of drafts. You will be graded equally on
thesis/argument, originality of analysis, use of textual evidence, and sentence-level clarity.
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