Revolutionary Road is an intense and realistic novel that sees Yates dissecting the stultifying life hidden behind the manicured lawns and white picket fences of suburban America.
Throughout the novel, Frank and April Wheeler are the self-conscious couple constantly judging themselves and measuring their lives against the standards set in movies and newspapers. It is as if their life is a play; they are acting as the perfect husband and wife that society expects them to be, yet realise that their idea of themselves as superior to their fellow suburbanites is increasingly losing ground to the reality that they are just like everyone else. They are bored by their neighbours and fearful of becoming clichés, and they show little affection for each other. The novel can be interpreted as a story of conformity, in a society where you are deemed 'insane' if you fail to conform.
The appeal of the plot is that even a family that appears to be ‘perfect’ can turn out to be completely dysfunctional when you scratch the surface and delve deeper. The futility of a relationship in the absence of love is explored through the intensity and realism of the dialogue between the Wheelers. This is paired with emotional scenes that are believable but not melodramatic, one of the great strengths of the novel and a credit to Yates as a writer.
The protagonists, Frank and April Wheeler, are certainly not likeable characters, but they are depicted in a way that brings them to life and makes them believable. However, you cannot help but feel sympathetic towards Frank, who had no idea of the situation he was dealing with and therefore didn’t have a chance. For this reason, the Wheelers seem fated to the end result of the novel. The additional, well-placed character of John Givings, a mental illness sufferer, plays an important role. Yates uses John’s distance from society as an excuse for him to convey what others (perhaps including the reader) think but do not dare say, providing a humorous dimension to the novel.
The usual optimistic and redeeming plot twist found in the majority of novels is absent in Revolutionary Road; rather than seeing everything resolved in a 'happy ending', the reader has to face the worst in the final scenes and is left with nothing of comfort. However the humorous act of Mr Givings turning off his hearing aid whilst his wife rambles on demonstrates the lack of communication and the isolation in this suburban society, and therefore makes for a poignant ending to a classic novel.