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The Enormous Radio

When an author wishes to communicate a character's personality to the reader, he simply shows that person in action. From the character's acts throughout a story, we can get a very good picture of the character. No special efforts are necessary to get the character to reveal himself.

This process is harder when the author wishes to portray not a character, but a society. One of the main functions of the short story is to criticize the author's society. This usually cannot be done by simply showing day-to-day life in the author's world--few societies are so bad that simply showing them will extract a condemnation, or indeed anything but boredom, from the reader. Most criticism-of-society stories are written by people familiar with that world, aimed at people living in that world. Extreme measures are needed to make people see their world with new eyes.

One of the tricks writers sometimes use to examine their society in a story is to introduce an element which does not belong in their characters' world to show how they react to it.

"The Enormous Radio," by former Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers, is an extreme example of this technique. Into a peaceful urban family setting is placed a magic radio which allows its listeners to eavesdrop on neighboring apartments.

At the beginning of the story, Cheevers includes a few lines which precisely place its protagonists, Jim and Irene Westcott, in their place in society. "They were the parents of two young children, they had been married nine years, they lived on the twelfth floor of an apartment house near Sutton Place, they went to the theatre on an average of 10.3 times a year, and they hoped someday to live in Westchester."

The Westcotts are introduced as absolutely average representatives of their society.

Jim Westcott buys a radio which soon shows itself to be a window into the lives of the other tenants of the apartment house. The other lives that are revealed are for the most part dreary and depressing.

"`Oh, it's so horrible, it's so dreadful,' Irene was sobbing.

I've been listening all day, and it's so depressing.'"

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