Feminism during the 50’s: A Look at Conflicting Gender Roles
The book Revolutionary Road, written by Richard Yates, tells the reader a story about the life of Frank and April Wheeler. The Wheelers are a married couple with children who live in a 1950’s suburb. This essay shows the reader how characters in the book do not conform to typical gender roles during this time period and how these gender roles are switched between men and women. The story gives us a lot of insight in to gender roles during the 1950’s. However, Frank and April Wheeler do not abide to the typical gender roles of men and women during this time period in American society. The idea of this analysis is to show the reader how Feminism and Masculinity are tested in Revolutionary Road. Richard Yates switches gender roles in this novel and does a good job of showing us a different perspective from what was most common during the 1950’s.
Revolutionary Road is about Frank and April Wheeler who live in a suburb called Revolutionary Estates with their two children Jennifer and Michael. They are viewed by their neighbors as your ideal husband and wife. They have a nosy real estate agent named Mrs. Giving’s who randomly shows up throughout the story and has a deranged son named John who ends up having some conflict with the Wheelers. Mrs. Giving’s also has a husband named Howard who seems not to care what she has to say most of the time because she is always gossiping or talking too much. There is also a couple, Milly and Shep Campbell who are family friends of the Wheelers and often hang out and drink together. Frank ends up having an affair with Maureen, a woman who works at Knox with him. He ends up feeling guilty about it because April does something special for him. She stops the argument they are in and has a surprise birthday plan for him and tells him about her plans of moving their family to Europe. Plans fail however when April realizes she is pregnant and Frank is satisfied that they won’t have to move. April ends up having an affair with Shep Campbell who is in love with her secretly. The story ends up with April killing herself attempting to do her own abortion from home. Frank lives on in distraught and agony.
Richard Yates uses Feminism in the story to show the reader how Frank fits in with typical feminine role of this time and April fits in with the typical masculine role. Frank is constantly emasculated throughout the story by April. When they realize April is pregnant, she wants to have an abortion. Frank is upset but he can’t do much about it because he doesn’t have any say in what she does. He tries to say, “Listen. Listen to me. You do this – you do this and I swear to God I’ll –” and she cuts him off and says, “Oh, you’ll what? You’ll leave me? What’s that supposed to be – a threat or a promise?” (Yates 52) testing his masculinity once again. April is not the typical woman of the 50’s and that’s why conflicting gender roles play such an important theme in this novel. Frank thrives off of the need to prove himself to April. He wants her to believe he is in control of every situation and is the man of the house. He tries to put off this image to April that he is a real man and leads their household. Frank has a lot of conflict throughout the book because of his constant need to prove his manhood and prove his masculinity to April.
Richard Yates uses Frank Wheeler to show us just how this novel conflicts the typical gender roles during the 1950’s. Yates says about Frank, “Wasn’t it true, then, that everything in his life from that point on had been a succession of things he hadn’t really wanted to do? Taking a dull job to prove he could be as responsible as any other man… Having another child to prove that the first one hadn’t been a mistake… Proving, proving; and for no other reason than that he was married to a woman who put him forever on the defensive” (Yates 51). Yates shows the reader the true tenacity of Frank’s need to prove...
Cited: Yates, Richard. Revolutionary Road. 2nd. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000. Print.
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