As Richard Yates’ first novel, Revolutionary Road gained public notice after it achieved a place as a finalist in the 1962 National Book Awards. Yates is largely championed for his role amongst the disillusioned and fearful writers that came to prominence after World War II; during the so-called “Age of Anxiety,” authors in Europe and the United States expressed a conscious awareness of the grim aspects of humanity, and ultimately shaped the themes of mid-century art and literature. The author imposes this careful introspection throughout Revolutionary Road, and the novel’s keen introspection about the realities of suburban life ultimately make the piece tangible, relatable, and deeply thought-provoking.
The novel follows the story of a young couple, April and Frank Wheeler, as they assimilate into life in a quiet Connecticut suburb of New York. The Wheelers’ existence centers around their sense of irony; while outwardly they live the lives of any other happy suburban family, much of the dialogue between the two discusses harsh criticisms of their quiet, complacent life. Revolutionary Road draws much of its conflict from this dichotomy between the image the Wheelers hold for themselves and their outward actions—it’s a battle between who they want to be and the actions they take as sensible human adults.
Throughout the piece, both of the Wheelers begin to make decisions that force them to contradict their values and what they believe in. Frank Wheeler, for example, hates his job as a typewriter manufacturer, but opts to sell out when the opportunity for upward mobility in the company arises. April, on the other hand, struggles with the idea of aborting her unborn child, but is ultimately persuaded to carry to term by Frank’s wishes. In the narrative arc of the story, both of the characters become the clichés that they speak so poorly of, and Yates makes a point to pull the reader into the Wheelers’ pressing sense of self-loathing.
The actual writing style of the piece is almost painfully matter-of-fact. Yates began his career as a journalist, and the influence on his writing style is apparent in Revolutionary Road. As the characters in the piece grow gradually more disenchanted and uninspired in their daily lives, Yates keeps a calculated distance from the emotional implosion. Itâ€™s through the writing that Yates keeps a reader informed and involved in the events of the story, but leaves room for the judgements and experiences of the reader.
Revolutionary Road is considered to be one of the foremost examples of mid-century novels, and for good reason; Yates has proven himself to be masterfully aware of his writing, as well as his exploration of topical themes for the average reader. In 2005, Time selected Revolutionary Road as one of the 100 Best English Language Novels from 1923 to present, and frankly, the title is well-earned. Revolutionary Road is a wonderful example of a period piece that has remained topical as it has aged, and the themes of self-integrity and the pressures of conformity are as compelling now as they were in 1962.