Revolutionary Road


Revolutionary Road (released December 31, 1961) is author Richard Yates' debut novel. It was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1962 along with Catch-22 and The Moviegoer. When published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1961, it received critical acclaim, and The New York Times reviewed it as "beautifully crafted... a remarkable and deeply troubling book."[1]

In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.[2]

When DeWitt Henry and Geoffrey Clark interviewed Yates for the Winter 1972 issue of Ploughshares, Yates detailed the title's subtext:

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.[3]

Plot summary

Set in 1955, the novel focuses on the hopes and aspirations of Frank and April Wheeler, self-assured Connecticut suburbanites who see themselves as very different from their neighbors in the Revolutionary Hill Estates. In the opening scene, April stars in an embarrassingly bad amateur dramatic production of The Petrified Forest:

She was working alone, and visibly weakening with every line. Before the end of the first act the audience could tell as well as the Players that she’d lost her grip, and soon they were all embarrassed for her. She had begun to alternate between false theatrical gestures and a white-knuckled immobility; she was carrying her shoulders high and square, and despite her heavy make-up you could see the warmth of humiliation rising in her face and neck.

After the performance, Frank and April have a fight on the side of the highway, and Frank later begins an affair with his office colleague Maureen Grube.

Seeking to break out of their suburban rut (and consequently blaming herself for all of Frank's "problems"), April convinces Frank they should move to Paris, where she will work and support him while he realizes his vague ambition to be something other than an office worker. The promise of France brings the two together in love and excitement again, and Frank seemingly ends his relationship with Maureen. While April sees the emigration as an opportunity to escape their dull environment, Frank's plans are more driven by vanity of his own intelligence, which April panders to. When the dull and prim neighbor Mrs. Givings begins bringing her "insane" son John around to the Wheelers' house for regular lunches, John's honest and erratic condemnation of his mother's suburban lifestyle strikes a chord with the Wheelers, particularly Frank.

Their plans to leave the United States begin to crumble when April conceives their third child, and Frank begins to identify with his mundane job when the prospect of a promotion arises. After arguing over the possibility of aborting the child, Frank tries to manipulate April into seeking psychiatric help for her troubled childhood. April, overwhelmed by the outcome of the situation, suffers something of an identity crisis and sleeps with her neighbor Shep Campbell, while Frank resurrects his relationship with Maureen. April attempts to self-abort her child, and in doing so is rushed to the hospital and dies from blood loss. Frank, scarred by the ordeal and feeling deep guilt over the outcome, is left a hollow shell of a man. He and his children spent time living with their uncle, hence mirroring the youth of their mother.[4]


In the October 1999 issue of the Boston Review, Yates was quoted on his central theme: "If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy." The Wheelers' frustrations and yearnings for something better represent the tattered remnants of the American Dream.

Literary significance

Stewart O'Nan probed the neglect of Yates in "The Lost World of Richard Yates: How the Great Writer of the Age of Anxiety Disappeared from Print".[5]

William Styron, who once gave a reading of the novel's opening chapter at Boston University, called Revolutionary Road "a deft, ironic, beautiful novel that deserves to be a classic."

Kurt Vonnegut called it "The Great Gatsby of my time... one of the best books by a member of my generation."

Tennessee Williams also praised the book: "Here is more than fine writing; here is what, added to fine writing, makes a book come immediately, intensely and brilliantly alive. If more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don't know what it is."

Film adaptation

Screenwriter Justin Haythe adapted the novel for filming, which was directed by Sam Mendes, stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and co-stars Kathy Bates.[6] It opened December 26, 2008 to generally favorable reviews.

  1. ^ Ford, Richard (2000-04-09). "American beauty (Circa 1955)". The New York Times. New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  2. ^ Time: "All-Time 100 Novels"
  3. ^ Henry, DeWitt and Clark, Geoffrey. "An Interview with Richard Yates," Ploughshares, Winter 1972.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Stewart O'Nan. "The Lost World of Richard Yates: How the Great Writer of the Age of Anxiety Disappeared from Print". Boston Review.
  6. ^ "Revolutionary Road (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
External links
  • Detailed chapter-by-chapter summary of Revolutionary Road
  • Review of the novel
  • Reconsiderations
  • Essay on the novel and film in The New Republic

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