Revolutionary Road - Life in Suburban America


In this post World War 2 suburban novel of inheritance, unrequited love and conformity to the ideals of the time, author Richard Yates creates a deeply troubling but profound novel that shakings the heartstrings of married life and the illusion of reality. Several themes run central in this book that resonate with me — the notion of inheritance, the importance of masculinity and the greater metaphor — that will hopefully help readers analyze this book.

One of the most divine themes in this novel is the notion of inheritance and the requirement in a sense, to confirm to ideals of suburban American at the time. Set in 1955, both Frank and April desperately want to flee for a new life and escape the “hopeless emptiness of everything in this country”(pg. 160). For April, starting a new life in Europe would solve all their problems — unrequited love, boredom, and emptiness. However, for Frank, bringing up “their children in a bath of sentimentality” gave him the opportunity to focus on developing his masculinity. Ironically, Mrs. Givings represents the resistance to the conformity and the conventional values of family life, referring to the Wheelers as distant and weird. For both April and Frank, a suppression of their true beliefs is even evident in many of their fights, as the next day everything goes back to normal, without any hesitation. It its primarily the result of this constant back and forth between rebellion against conformity and living with conformity that April eventually takes her own life. We can see that her finished written note for Frank not as wholeheartedly blaming him her actions, but of the society that forced her to her limit - Suburbia, societal norms, and failed dreams-eventually leading to her demise. From paving the road through her sacrifice, April proved that she is indeed and outlier — because she believed in a society greater than herself.

The notion of masculinity and the prevalence of the breadwinner is evident in this novel, as Yates wants to highlight Frank’s journey to become a man in the family to April, which leads him to pursue an affair with Maureen and seek a facade of himself in front of her. While April and the Campbells represent the ideal working family with the man as the breadwinner, Ms. Givings represents a deviation; she is a real-estate agent in what was a primarily male- dominated industry. However, Ms. Givings herself represents an outlier from 1950s life,as she conforms to traditional family values but herself is the breadwinner. Strongly evident throughout the entire novel resides the struggle for Frank to obtaining his masculinity against April’s struggle for liberation.The 1950s was a struggle for the women’s liberation movement, and we can see that through April’s persistence to give herself an abortion. By blaming April and trying to persuade her to keep the baby by insisting that she is “ an empty, hollow, fucking shell of a woman”, Frank tries to portray himself in a positive light. This phrase I believe is symbolic because it creates the portrait of April as the breadwinner-from mowing the lawn to making critical decision for the family-that Frank should be making. By trying to regain his masculinity in an era that espouses masculinity, Frank makes several bad decisions that challenge his values and beliefs. By continually challenging Frank and society’s conventions, April challenged the status quo governing masculinity at the time, trying ever so slightly to tear down preconceived notions of women. We can see this notion manifest itself in the greater theme of the novel- the one of the great Suburban facade.

Perhaps the real reason that April gave herself an abortion was not even in the trouble of their marriage itself-perhaps it was the perplexing environment of the notion of family in the 1950s-that eventually pushed her overboard. Or diving into a deeper metaphor, both April and Frank are simply metaphors of characters who unknown lying feel into the “American Dream” of the 1950s that could bear with no more. Indeed, they were just an actress and actor acting out one of the greatest dramas of suburban drama at the time. And when their chapter was done, society simply moved right along, and pushed aside the tragedy swiftly as a new family moved in. When April passes away, and Frank is forced to start over, Ms. Givings and the community tries to forget quickly the Wheelers. Through the lens of a family’s life, we can see how purposefully created deeply flawed characters, bound by an illusion,were helpless to escape the society that created them. Creating these characters provide insight not only into the difficulties of married life, but also the ideals of married life, the ideals of reality, when in a matter of fact, is a but a delusion.

Marriage in any century, and country is never perfect. But bound and confounded by societal constraints makes the essence of freedom impossible to attain without some sort of sacrifice. Revolutionary Road presents us with that sacrifice in the name of the greater good-sacrifice-through nonconformance to conditionals views, challenging masculinity, all the more by playing the greatest suburban tragedy humankind has witnessed.

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