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Revolutionary Road (Movie Tie-In Edition) (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)


Revolutionary Road (Movie Tie-In Edition) (Random House Movie Tie-In Books) Cover

ISBN13: 9780307454621
ISBN10: 0307454622
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

“A deft, ironic, beautiful novel that deserves to be a classic.”

—William Styron

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Richard Yates's acclaimed 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road.

1. What is the significance of the novel's title, Revolutionary Road? In what ways might it be read as an ironic commentary on mid-twentieth century American values?

2. Why does Yates begin the novel with the story of the play? In what ways does it set up some of the themes—disillusionment, self-deception, play-acting, etc.—that are developed throughout the novel?

3. Frank rails about the middle-class complacency of his neighbors in the Revolutionary Hill Estates. “It's as if everybody'd made this tacit agreement to live in a state of total self-deception. The hell with reality! Let's have a whole bunch of cute little winding roads and cute little houses painted white and pink and baby blue; let's all be good consumers and have a lot of Togetherness and bring our children up in a bath of sentimentality . . . and if old reality ever does pop out and say Boo we'll all get busy and pretend it never happened” [pp. 68-69]. Is Frank's critique of suburbia accurate? In what ways does Frank himself live in a state of self-deception? Why can he see so clearly the self-deception of others but not his own?

4. What ironies are involved in Frank going to work for the same firm his father worked for? What is Frank's attitude toward his job and the fact that he's walking in his father's footsteps?

5. Describing a Negro couple holding hands at the mental hospital where John Givings has been confined, the narrator writes that “it wasn't easy to identify the man as a patient until you noticed that his other hand was holding the chromium leg of the table in a yellow-knuckled grip of desperation, as if it were the rail of a heaving ship” [p. 296]. What do such precise and vivid physical descriptions—often highly metaphorical—add to the texture of the novel? Where else does Yates use such descriptions to reveal a character's emotional state?

6. Revolutionary Road frequently—and seamlessly—moves between past and present, as characters drift in and out of reveries. (April's childhood memory [pp. 321-326] is a good example). What narrative purpose do these reveries serve? How do they deepen the reader's understanding of the inner lives of the main characters?

7. What roles do Frank's affair with Maureen and April's sexual encounter with Shep play in the outcome of the novel? Are they equivalent? What different motivations draw Frank and April to commit adultery?

8. Twice Frank talks April out of an abortion, and both times he later regrets having done so, admitting that he didn't want the children any more than she did. What motivates him to argue so passionately against April aborting her pregnancies? What methods does he use to persuade her? Is John Givings right in suggesting that it's the only way he can prove his manhood?

9. What role does John Givings play in the novel? Why is he such an important character, even though he appears in only two scenes? How does he move the action along?

10. How do Frank and April feel about Shep and Milly Campbell? What do they reveal about themselves in their attitudes toward their closest friends?

11. Before she gives herself a miscarriage, April leaves a note telling Frank not to blame himself if anything should happen to her. But is he to blame for April's death? Why, and to what extent, might he be responsible?

12. The narrator writes, after April's death, that “The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy” [p. 339]. In what ways is the novel tragic? What tragic flaws might be ascribed to both Frank and April? Why are the Revolutionary Hill Estates ill-suited to tragedy?

13. What is Yates suggesting by the fact that the only character in the novel who sees and speaks the truth has been confined to an insane asylum? Does John Givings's‚ outsider status give him the freedom to speak the truth, or has his natural tendency toward telling the truth, however unpleasant it might be, landed him in a mental hospital?

14. Near the end of the novel, the narrator says of Nancy Brace, as she listens to Milly's retelling of April's death: “She liked her stories neat, with points, and she clearly felt there were too many loose ends in this one” [p. 345]. What is the problem with wanting stories to be “neat”? In what ways does Revolutionary Road circumvent this kind of overly tidy or moralistic reading? Does the novel itself present too many “loose ends”?

15. The novel ends with Mrs. Givings chattering on to her husband about how “irresponsible” and “unwholesome” the Wheelers were. What is the significance, for the novel as a whole, of the final sentences: “But from there on Howard Givings heard only a welcome, thunderous sea of silence. He had turned off his hearing aid”? [p. 355]. What symbolic value might be assigned to the plant that Mrs. Givings mentions at the end of the novel?

16. Revolutionary Road was first published in 1961. In what ways does it reflect the social and psychological realities of that period? In what ways does it anticipate and illuminate our own time?

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OneMansView, December 12, 2008 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Pseudo sophistication unravels

This book is concerned with the blandness, conformity, and pleasantness of the suburban landscape of the 1950s, as well as the bureaucratic stultification of corporations of that era where most men of suburbia worked, but is far more interested in how individuals, and more so couples, perceive themselves in terms of those environments and their ability to adapt to or to transcend them. Frank and April Wheeler, two thirty-year olds, live on Revolutionary Road next to a manicured suburb of pastels in Conn in a nice little house with two children. It was just two years ago that the smarmy real estate agent had judged them to be a charming couple, but of late their underlying psychological inadequacies, played out against their cultural backdrop, has created more and more discord in their lives.

Both April and Frank were mediocre college students, she in dramatic studies, he in a nondescript academic program at Columbia. Both April, an elegant beauty, and Frank, a gifted conversationalist about most any trendy subject, saw themselves as rising above the commonplace world and people. Any ambition they had was to be pursued in a distant, nebulous future; she settled for being first Frank’s live-in lover and then his wife, and Frank purposely pursued a job shuffling paper in a sales promotion department where he wouldn’t have to give up his “identity” and could “turn off [his] mind every morning at nine and leave it off all day.”

Eventually ending up in the suburbs they, along with their best friends, the Campbell’s, could scarcely contain their disdain for the predictability and mundane nature of their neighbors. Their reluctant participation in an amateur theater group, the Laurel Players, was intended to “teach” these culturally illiterate suburbanites. But a disastrous performance by the Players, with April in the leading role, proved to be unsettling to the Wheelers. Subtle doubts begin to creep into their inflated self-perceptions and their smugness towards their neighbors. Their lives fairly quickly begin to unravel. Even their unsophisticated neighbors sense that the wheels are coming off when the Wheelers reveal a spur-of-the-moment plan to move to Paris in a few months so that Frank can find himself without any prospects for a job. But that plan only masks their deeply rooted problems with the unraveling continuing from that point.

The author leaves it to the supposedly insane son of the real estate woman, on Sunday visits to the Wheeler’s that she regrettably arranged, to point out with withering questions and observations the Wheeler’s personal illusions and the overall absurdity of modern culture. Some have compared the book to Updike’s Couples, but this book is a more troubling critique of suburban culture and of psychological distress. It is concerned with more than suburban boredom. It is far more an examination of the devastating consequences of the combination of vacuous culture and deadening institutions and inadequate, if not culturally determined, personalities.
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Product Details

Yates, Richard
Vintage Books USA
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.07x5.29x.78 in. .58 lbs.

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