I’ve blogged in the past about the famous “Blame it on the ‘burbs” novel “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates. Published in the early 1960s, it captured the constricted lives of American families living in the 1950s post WWII era, with emphasis placed on family, safe neighborhoods, and the husband supporting the household while the wife remained home and raised the children. In the novel, as well as the film, the tragic ending turns many off, and I admit it takes another look to appreciate the very strong message that Yates gave us in his novel.
For a brief summary, the couple Frank and April Wheeler lives in these traditional middle class conditions with two children, and she gets an idea to move to Paris to live. They have a history of believing they were special, with some destination to greater achievements than their middle class peers. Frank goes along with it to calm his wife’s raging temper, but doubts escalate with a job promotion and come to a head when April becomes unexpectedly pregnant. As their marriage falls apart, with Frank unable to deal with April’s temper, and April realizing Frank had no more aspiring ambition other than suburban life, the story ends in tragedy when she attempts to abort her pregnancy.
First, critics still applaud Yates as a writer that had the nerve not to “rescue” his characters. In the film, “Titanic” fans of the Winslet/DiCaprio couple saw a let down of the opposite of forbidden love in “Revolutionary Road.” To me, DiCaprio gave one of his best dramatic performances since “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” (His best work by far).
Going back to the message left us by Yates, I remember the days when I was finishing college and along with my friends I thought there were better places to be, better people to be with than where I was, in Mississippi. Our circle spoke often of moving to large cities like New York, Atlanta, or Chicago. When I graduated from college with a degree as a lab technician, I got a day shift job in Fort Worth Texas by a telephone interview. When my personal life fell apart, instead of staying home, I moved to the New Orleans area. I admit my time as a swinging single in a big city was well spent learning a lot about life in general, every night is not a party, bills must be paid, and Mr. Right doesn’t arrive on a white horse.
When I met Mr. Right, I found myself back in my home state of Mississippi, where I least expected it. Did my dreams come true? Yes, but not like I actually dreamed them to be, which is what real life is really about. I hit milestones with marriage, medical training, and the tough realization that I’d never have children.
“Revolutionary Road” tells us that some point in our maturity, we must stop dreaming and accept what we have as our life. Can we keep dreaming afterwards? Of course! Like the Wheelers, we all think we’re special in some way; if we didn’t we’d never do anything at all. What Yates reminds us is that dreams can make us lose our way and bring destruction the point everything can be lost.