In all honesty and truthfulness, post-war, American authors have produced quite a frightening element in this country's literary discourse. Frightening, because they amass self-critical observations that have ultimately led to paranoia regarding the reliability of life's constructs and realities. John Cheever's. The Enormous Radio, and John Updike's, Rabbit Run, both address two different forms of self-awareness in the 1950s. This noted self-awareness becomes the source, subject, and result of fear. Fear, the basic human emotion, brought about by uncertainty, can find its cause and effect highlighted amongst the prose of Cheever and Updike. Their central characters find fear to be a circulating occurrence between questioning the status and stability of oneself and the role of the self in the surrounding society.
[...] It is easy to understand why they should fear the deconstruction of this environment as it offers them stability and clearly defined roles and ways to find happiness. Rabbit, as we know, was never so fortunate and couldn't find this sense of happiness from his marriage or job. He just didn't feel like he fit that mold. His thrills come from playing basketball, and still being able to win. His thrills come from things out of the ordinary, just as Irene soon learns, too. [...]
[...] The radio and its out of the ordinary power invigorated her. It changed her daily routine and she quickly became addicted to constantly listening to it. Her thrill came from voyeurism, which was a variable to her environment. Each character, as we know, finds their own ways to deal with their respective realities. The differences between the characters continue, whereas Updike's Rabbit willingly accepts his discontent, Cheever must force it upon Jim and Irene. He must use surrealist elements in order to make them see that their society is a fraud. [...]
[...] in terms of American hopes for a post-war world; however, optimism was one of many volatile emotions pulsing through the country at this time. For with optimism, comes anxiety of threats that will crush this new found, post-war hope. Anxiety at the time was in large part due to the threat of Soviet power, but was also caused by a fear of internal failure; therefore emphasis was placed on personal success. In his essay, “John Cheever's Surreal Vision and The Bridge of Language,” Wanye Stengel notes that Cheever was, writer whose fictions are propelled by a perpetual sense of fear.”[i] In the case of, Enormous Radio” this sense of fear is created by a very apparent distrust that the author has for the society he is writing about. [...]
[...] Ultimately, the radio's magical tendencies end, but not before Jim and Irene lash out at each other under the pressure of this brutal realization that the world is not perfect. Jim references an abortion Irene had and the two stop fighting. Slowly, though, their harsh words and clear emotional pain and distress are deafened by the news of disasters from around the world coming out of the radio's speaker. Here, Cheever, reveals the power of the superficial and the ways in which the social system masks individual identity and personal distress by distracting people from their individual fears and creating diversions through objects of consumption like the radio and the news. [...]
[...] Greiner writes that, “Updike's fictions about hearth and home are always metaphors for the decline of the American century.”[v] In the case of Rabbit, he has attained this American dream. He has a job, a home, and a wife. Yet he still realizes that he wants more from life. Updike uses the case of Rabbit to show that there is something wrong with this supposed contentment for life, and that there is underlying internal struggles causing restlessness amongst middle-class America. [...]
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