George W. Hunt has written that Cheever's "The Enormous Radio," is about "the mysterious
communality of evil [. . .]" (238). Without entirely disagreeing with Hunt, I suggest another
interpretation for this well-known story. "The Enormous Radio" is actually a study of addiction:
the kind of addiction common to many obsessive-compulsive personalities. No stranger to
addiction, Cheever wrote the following in his journal: "Since I know so much about
incarceration and addiction why can't I write about it? [. . .] I am both a prisoner and an addict"
(quoted by Clemons 92). In fact, he was an alcoholic who recovered sufficiently to stay sober
the last seven years of his life (Clemons 92). He was well equipped to write a story about an
urban housewife's addiction to an eavesdropping radio. Through her addiction to the radio and
what it reveals about her neighbors, Irene discovers the "communality of evil" Hunt refers to.
Before the advent of the new radio, the only way Jim and Irene Westcott differed from
their upwardly mobile "friends [. . .] classmates, and [. . .] neighbors" was in the fact that the
couple had a mutual liking for "serious music" (Cheever 791). At first Irene is rather put off by
the "physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet." Its "dials flooded with a malevolent
green light," and inside the cabinet held "violent forces" (792). Many alcoholics will tell you
that they initially hated the taste of alcohol, and no one will doubt that for them alcohol contained
"violent forces." The same is true for any addiction, be it for gambling, overeating, undereating,
or any drug.
Of course most such addictions develop over a long period. Within the limits of the short
story, Cheever must condense the process of becoming hooked, as it were, living through the
addiction's torments, reaching a bottom, and beginning recovery....