Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.  (Yates 1972)

Revolutionary Road is a novel about Frank and April Wheeler and their two children, a seemingly typical middle-class family living in the suburbs in the fifties. The street they live in is ironically called ‘Revolutionary Road’. In the quotation given above, the writer of the book, Richard Yates, explains that he meant to express the way in which the fifties were a long way from America’s traditional revolutionary spirit. This is obviously where the book’s title derives from.

However, Frank and April regard themselves as artistic people, very different from their neighbours whom they find ‘dull’ and ‘materialistic’. Frank is unhappy with his job, and April takes care of the kids, having failed in her attempt to become an actress.  They fight a lot and both become exceedingly frustrated about their lives so April suggests to move to Paris, where she thinks they will be happier. Sadly April finds out she is pregnant and they end up not going to Paris but continue their lives in the suburbs. April does not want to have the child while Frank is against abortion. April is overwhelmed by the outcome of the whole situation. Unable to deal with living on Revolutionary Road forever, she tries to self-abort her child. This does not work out very well and she is taken to the hospital where she bleeds to death. Frank goes on living an idle existence on Revolutionary Road.

The book opens with a quotation:

Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!

(Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil. John Keats)

It basically describes the whole book in one sentence: it shows how shyness and temperament combine very badly in the characters of Frank and April. April Wheeler has ambitions and her plans to move to Paris. Her fantasies about Parisian life are not real and she believes that her husband is fluent in French, while he knows the language hardly at all. This is painful because her hopes are so earnest. Frank Wheeler feels meekly and wildly as well. He thinks he is a real man, but in the meantime he does not even dare to tell his colleagues about them moving to Paris. Their frank hopes and dreams, combined with their inability to change their lives for the better, make their story a very depressing one. The Wheelers seem stuck in the suburbs, stuck in the lives they both hate but their characters and perhaps even more importantly, the time they live in, prevent them from making a change.

Although this powerlessness provokes an enormous amount of compassion, one cannot help but be irritated by the book’s main characters at some point, especially because the book is so realistically written. Frank is actually kind of a ‘pussy’, April has the tendency to put herself in the position of a victim all the time. I think Richard Yates chose main characters that we are not supposed to like on purpose. This way, he can emphasize the ‘blind, desperate clinging to safety and security ‘ even more.

A film has also been made about the book. Starring Kate Winslet en Leonardo di Caprio as the Wheeler couple.

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