Cellophane Bag; ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara

Every so often, as confused 20-somethings do, I contemplate my existence – how different it is from the way I planned. I never had a career in mind for when I grew up and I am still not entirely sure what I am able to do now, but I always had an idea of where I wanted be. Sadly I have not completed a PHD, I am not living in London, and I am definitely not a genius; so much for my 13 year-old self’s dreams. These goals/desires/assumptions on reflection were rather unrealistic (I do not have the attention span to achieve a PHD) yet in their beautiful simplicity they allow me to wonder what I could be doing now and how I can change.

Hailed as a masterpiece from its first publication, Revolutionary Road is the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright young couple who are bored by the banalities of suburban life and long to be extraordinary. With heartbreaking compassion and clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April’s decision to change their lives for the better leads to betrayal and tragedy.Goodreads

From the moment of its publication in 1961, Revolutionary Road was hailed as a masterpiece of realistic fiction and as the most evocative portrayal of the opulent desolation of the American suburbs. It’s the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright, beautiful, and talented couple who have lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves.Goodreads

Initially it was easy to relate to the Wheelers, our protagonists, trapped in their suburban bubble, when they would give anything to live a more philosophical, free thinking, bohemian lifestyle. There is nothing more horrifying than suburban life; evil and all-knowing and tight nit and bitchy, neighbours gossip and everyone knows your business. Yet as the novel progresses my initial respect quickly turned to disdain; Frank and April are unrealistically idealistic, forgetting and avoiding their responsibilities. They follow a lifestyle plan they despise and constantly act at doing what is expected of them, when called on this hypocrisy they are armed with excuses for their compliance.

There was not one character in Revolutionary Road that was anything but naive, unreasonable, bitchy or flighty. I thoroughly enjoyed Yates’ characterisation, I enjoyed being annoyed at these fools, I questioned my own views and judgements; it was marvellous. April Wheeler was my main aggravation, a woman who constantly makes excuses for her actions. April claims she acts for the benefit of others/Frank, yet her bullshit very visibly skims the surface of her real emotions. Later in the novel, moments before she ‘seduces’ Shep Campbell, April speaks wistfully about life passing her by and while I understood her sadness the chip on her shoulder and ‘woe is me’ attitude disrupted any possibility of me feeling sympathetic. April carefully words her sentences; on the surface she appears to accept blame for the life she leads, however, on closer inspection her ‘speeches’ are laced with double meanings, placing the blame on others.

“She didn’t really want to talk; not to him [Shep], anyway. All she wanted was to sound off, to make herself feel better by playing at being wistful and jaded, and she had elected him as her audience.”Shep, Revolutionary Road

With my distaste for April seeded at the very beginning of Revolutionary Road, Frank Wheeler was at first my only sane companion. Faced with his unreliable narration, I initially admired his tolerance of April and accepted his affair with Maureen as a necessity. However, as the book progressed my feelings for Frank evolved and my rose tinted glasses faded away. When Norma, Maureen’s flat-mate, called Frank out on his actions (demanding he should take responsibility for his affair and effect on Maureen) I could have shouted for joy! Frank constantly fails to take responsibility for his actions in any segment of his life; he makes no effort at work, he does not work at his marriage, he does not care about April’s needs and neither he nor April take responsibility for their children; unwanted accessories disrupting the Wheeler’s lives. By the end of the novel Frank is a broken man, but not any better for it, just another version of a failed husband and father.

Aside from flawed characters, there is a constant battle between free thought and the closed thought of the suburban lifestyle; while (I like to think) I am a supporter of philosophical thought, Frank and April’s cavalier attitude towards the aspects of their life which do not conform to this lifestyle left me judgemental. John Givings represents this battle between city and suburban thought perfectly; as an ‘insane’ and damaged character he praises the Wheelers for their non-conformity and then berates them for switching to a conformist mind set. Initially the Wheelers attitudes are that of a crazed insane man, then change to the rational/repressed side of the elder Mr and Mrs Givings; the idealistic young life style is therefore represented as frivolous, to be locked away and banished from the realms of people settling down to marry and have children.

As ‘revolutionary’ as Frank and April Wheeler claim to be they are still incredibly stuck within their gender rolls – Frank is easily emasculated by April mowing the lawn or sorting paperwork for the move to Paris, while April is trapped in motherhood without birth control. Revolutionary Road is a fantastic book; it keeps you thinking, motivated and hungry for the next chapter, read it!

“You know what this is like, April? Talking like this?? The whole idea of taking off to Europe this way?” […] “it’s like coming out of a cellophane bag. It’s like having been encased in some kind of cellophane for years without knowing it, and suddenly breaking out.”Frank, Revolutionary Road

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4 Comments on "Cellophane Bag; ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates"

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Crissy
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What a coincidence! I just borrowed this one from the library and will probably start it at some point today :) I didn’t read your post yet, but I’ll be back when I’m done to share my thoughts :D

Carla
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You’ll understand better when you’re older. This book depicts like no other the desperation of not really knowing what you want, or what your life is supposed to mean. And none of us really know what we want or what our lives mean. That’s the beauty of this book, and every single character in it. They are all grappling with the same desperate not-knowing, each in his or her own way.

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[…] I am not actually sure how many books this amounts to, but thus far I’ve read three. (I read Revolutionary Road in 2012; while it didn’t have the same impact as Easter Parade, its haunting prose are still […]

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