Feminism During the 50’s

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.

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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 himself to April day after day. Having a job, having a family, and doing everything to provide for your family were all things men were expected to do during that time in America. Frank has an obsession with needing April to believe he is in control and fully providing for her and their children. He feels she will leave him or step up and provide for them herself is he cannot do it. Frank is trying to prove he is the man and holds the masculine gender role over April. April says in one scene to Frank, “Me. Me. Me. Oh, you poor, self-deluded – Look at you, Look at you, and tell me how by any stretch of imagination you can call yourself a man” ( Yates 28) which really test Franks masculinity. He is without a doubt upset about April’s actions and words. By receiving her approval, he feels his masculinity and feels he has accomplished what is important. Throughout the story however, we see that Frank never truly gets the approval from April he is looking for.

Yates intends for Frank to be weaker and less masculine than April. This is how Richard Yates uses conflicting gender roles in his characters. April is a very independent woman and she will take care of what she feels is necessary. She doesn’t look to Frank for guidance and leadership. The narrator points this out when April is mowing the lawn and Frank is watching her wishing he was doing it. The narrator states that Frank had “planned as soon as he’d had some coffee to go out there and take the lawnmower away from April, by force if it was necessary, so the he could restore as much balance to the morning as possible. But he was still in his bathrobe” (Yates 40). Frank cannot stand the fact that April is mowing the yard and not letting him do it. Yates gives us a description of April in the yard, he says, “It was April herself, stolidly pushing and hauling the old machine, wearing a man’s shirt and a pair of loss, flapping slacks” (Yates 35) This description of April really gives the reader a simple understanding that April doesn’t need Frank to mow the yard because she is capable and willing to do it herself. These are the things that really bother Frank because he wants a woman who needs him to do everything for her. That’s what Frank feels he is supposed to do; he wants to be the sole provider and “alpha” of his household.

Another way we see Frank being emasculated is when April plans the move to Europe. She tells Frank about the plans to move at his surprise birthday get together, he had just got home from having an affair with Maureen from his office. The narrator gives us a good understanding of Frank’s inability to take control. He ends up agreeing with the plans even though he is not fully sure and confident that is what he wants. Frank says, “Darling? We are really going to do it, aren’t we? I mean it hasn’t just been a lot of talk or anything, has it?” (Yates 116) and they agree the move to Europe is a sure thing. Then they fall asleep and the chapter ends with April saying I love you to Frank. Frank is finally feeling a sense of assurance at this point because things are getting better between him and April. He is finally feeling that sense of satisfaction he thrives for. He and April are getting along and things “seem” to be good. However, April ends up letting Frank in on some startling news. She is pregnant and when Frank finds out he is actually happy about the news because he has had a promotion offered to him at work and knows that having a baby will keep them from moving. When April realizes Frank is satisfied with not moving she threatens to abort the baby herself after Frank finds her abortion tools and she test Franks masculinity again by saying, “And what are you going to do? Do you think you’re going to stop me?” (Yates 209) when he questions her on what she is going to do with the tools. Frank has no control over any situations throughout this book. Especially in this situation because April has had her mind set on moving and she was not going to take no for an answer. She eventually kills herself trying to proceed in doing an abortion herself at their home. April had control of the situation the whole time.

Furthermore, “Revolutionary Road” gives the reader a wide and detailed interpretation of very unusual gender roles for the 1950’s. The author’s use of feminism helps him to show how Frank is a man who feeds of his wife for satisfaction. Everything Frank does is mainly to get the approval and acceptance of his wife April. Feminism also helps us to take a look at how April Wheeler is portrayed. She is a very independent woman and for this time period that is very rare. Women typically depended on men and did not step up as leaders and sole providers of their family. However, April is much different. She wants Frank to know that she can take care of herself and her family without the help of a man. She is portrayed as being much more masculine and superior than her husband. She is in control of their relationship and she is in control of Frank’s life. Everything Frank does is based on what April thinks and getting her to notice and her to approve is what makes him feel like a man. Richard Yates did an amazing job in “Revolutionary Road” by showing the reader the conflicting gender roles of April and Frank Wheeler.

Works Cited
Yates, Richard. Revolutionary Road. 2nd. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000. Print.

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