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A reader's guide to Revolutionary Road

Updated Thursday, 1st May 2008

Set against the Eisenhower Presidency, Revolutionary Road captures 1950s America - and preshadows what would come next.

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Revolutionary Road was published in 1961, to critical acclaim. Richard Yates was hailed for producing a penetrating anti-suburban, anti-marriage novel, although he has denied that this was his intention.

Rather, he saw his book as an indictment of American life generally in the nineteen-fifties. He has explained that he was disturbed by the desire for conformity, and wanted to voice his feelings about the Eisenhower administration and McCarthyism.

When Yates had the idea for Revolutionary Road, the first part that came to mind was actually the ending. He had to construct the novel to lead up to the striking denouement he had envisaged.

The book begins with a performance by a local drama society, which seems appropriate because it sets the scene for the role play that takes place throughout.

Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model couple, raising their two youngsters in Connecticut. In truth, however, they are both frustrated by their circumstances.

Dwight D Eisenhower Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: US Government
The head of the Road: Dwight Eisenhower

Frank feels stifled in his career, and April is a dissatisfied housewife. She suggests a solution: a new life awaits them in Europe, so she urges Frank to move to Paris.

Whilst Yates was writing the book, the character of John Givings occurred to him. John is a patient in a mental hospital, but his observations about the Wheelers hit home.

The reader witnesses their descent, as their plans crumble away. In an interview, Yates said that his novel was supposed to be about "a series of abortions, of all kinds".

The forthcoming film of Revolutionary Road will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.





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