The Concept of American Dream in the Revolutionary Road
Over the years, many heroes and heroines especially from the West fought so hard in order to give people unlimited opportunities, freedom, material prosperity and individual happiness. The concept “American dream” as a national ideal is associated with independence and freedom as one individual fulfill his dream through fulfilling his innate passion and desires. This concept gives American citizens the expectations that their government should create a society that will reward drive and innovation or a society that will generate growth.
But at the same time, one should be responsible for himself to develop as a full man and woman without the barriers of the older civilizations since this had already been slowly erected by the political leaders in the past. Initially the concept of American Dream considering its historical basis is described as a; “dream in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.
It is a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth and position” (Garfinkle 206). In past years, American Dream is perceive as a promise that each human being has the freedom to make his own life according to his will or choices. This promise made the Americans dreamers, hopeful and independent wanting to take advantage of a freedom of self expression that not every culture has.
But this established social structure has a profound influence over individual inner experiences. Contrary to the common impression of upward social mobility due to the “American Dream,” this mobility can lead to an inner struggle between socially and personally held values of the individuals. It is also inevitable to anticipate that upward social mobility will increase the likelihood of the experience of depression and frustration due to the resultant feelings of ambivalence.
Due to the promises of American Dream, it is inevitable that American citizens will create mental expectations that if it fails they will have a feeling of depression and hopelessness. These feelings of hopelessness and depression due to unfulfilled passion and expectations are illustrated in the main characters of the film Revolutionary Road. The movie is an indictment of American life that focuses on how the unfulfilled hopes and aspirations of April and Frank Wheeler, main protagonists and married couple, affected them emotionally and psychologically.
The seemingly unrealistic and romantic expectations of April Wheeler illustrate tattered remains of American Dream that not achieving it will cause inner death. Though the couple experienced financial security in the middle class suburban America, does that guarantee a meaningful life? Even though they are living comfortably, both believe that they are not truly free. They want a satisfying life free from suburban paralysis whose kind of lifestyle seems routinary. Fulfillment of passion, dreams and hopes with total freedom and independence is what American Dream is for April Wheeler.
But financial security and practical opportunities paralyses and hinders her husband to leave America, and so the conflict begins. April wants to escape financial practicalities, routines and her simple role only confined in domesticity and motherhood. Determine to escape the mediocrity and suburbanites that surround them, the couple decides to move in Europe to develop and practice their artistic sensibilities, free from the consumerist demands of capitalist America.
But their relationship is thrown into jeopardy because of their frequent squabbling, misunderstanding and unnecessary anxieties from their American Dream. The film is set in the 1950’s in the ordinary suburbs of Connecticut where every family and employee seems to have the same routines everyday. Frank and April Wheeler, the main characters, are afraid to be like anyone else in their community who seems content and who are afraid to explore outside their comfort zone of financial security.
So they believe that they are untypical middle class family living in the suburbs as they still attach in their youthful passion and still believes in life’s adventure. They have promised never to be dragged into the monotonous world of the people around them. But despite their wits, talents and good looks, the couple suddenly find themselves slowly becoming the individuals they swore never to be; a plain, unhappy housewife who longs for fulfillment; a man with a boring job and an existence as dreary as the rest of the neighborhood.
April, a failed aspiring theatrical actress starts the novel in a local theatrical group. This experience of April in the initial part of the novel is embarrassing and is a disaster that sows the seeds of her discontent. She soon realizes how dull her life is, a life that is far from what she imagines her life will be with Frank Wheeler. Frank, a naturally dreamer, lost his direction and works at Knox Business Machines as an ordinary office employee, while April becomes a typical housewife looking after her two kids.
The novel depicts April as a housewife frustrated and emotionally conflicted after being trapped in the suburban life. This given reality is such a discouragement for both especially for April and so she devises a plan to reverse their fortunes and present fate. April discusses plans to escape and leave everything behind in their suburban life to live in Paris where she will fulfill her artistic talents in performance and Frank will find out what he really wants to do with his life. Paris for her will give them opportunities to fulfill what they really wanted in life; total freedom, adventure and happiness.
At first though hesitant, Frank agreed as he also wants to achieve the promises of venturing the unpredictability of life in Paris. When Frank gets promoted though, their much awaited departure is being stalled, and they find their marriage crumbling. Frank knows that his promotion is only a lifetime opportunity and somehow he doesn’t want to take it as a risk in a life (Paris) that is no guarantee yet. The perpetual squabbling of the couple is due to April’s strong desire to break out from the prison of bourgeois family life.
Apparently Wheelers miss the culture and intellectual quiver of their youth. So when not arguing passionately, they drink a lot and often hang out with their friends and neighbors, the Campbells. But April strongly believes that as a bright, beautiful and gifted couple, their future has strong possibility of greatness if only they will take the risk. April’s depression and apparent desperation to escape her present life eventually made them betray each other and their very true self. April is being corrupted by her strong desire to depart herself to her monotonous life in Connecticut.
As noted, April and Frank are not the usual suburban types, but people who consider themselves better than the people in their neighborhood; they mock people as they feel like their living their life half sleep. One of their frequent outside activities is to visit with another couple, spending few hours complaining about how unproductive everyone else is. Frank hates his white collar job and April just stays home with the kids but since they believe that they have potentials and resources, they know they can change their lives for the better.
But what do individuals do when they are intelligent and high willed enough not to be satisfied with the conformity and blandness of their surroundings, but lack the drive to ever escape mediocrity, because they are, fundamentally, much more a part of their environment than they imagine? Frank, after hesitating whether going to Paris is a reasonable and practical thing to do especially after he was being promoted made him somehow like everybody else who is afraid to let go of financial security and assurance. Perhaps Frank and April are not extraordinary and different as they would want to think.
But nonetheless their character reflects American Dream—a life far from mediocrity and a life where one creates his own individuality and sense of identity. Moreover, their characters reminds the viewers to come face to face to their own mediocrity, challenges them to be honest with themselves and tries sincerely to know whether their aspirations fit their potentials and capabilities. Sometimes one’s ambitions and hopes are unrealistic. The promises of American Dream inspire the character to hope so much in the future and so that when those hopes are being unfulfilled, the character experiences great depression.
“The problem with the society isn’t necessarily that it’s hypocritical or conformist or mediocre, but that it produces people with such a horrible gap between aspiration and capacity – it gives them the leisure and intelligence to want a fuller life while robbing them of the backbone to get it” (Yates xxi).
But one can approach April’s character in this novel positively as she seems to know herself. She is taking concrete steps in order to accomplish her desires. She is a woman who wants to explore and find herself through her given talents and skills.
She is confident that given a chance, she can prove herself in the world of arts. April definitely knows that this is the only way to find her self again and to eventually feel that her existence has a purpose after all—not just confined to being a mother and being a wife. While Frank though he realizes his vague ambition to be someone other than an office worker did not seek any alternative self. Instead after being identified and flattered in his mundane job, their plans to go Paris became unnecessary for him. When April conceives their third child, their plan to leave America crumbles.
When April discovers that she is pregnant, she is demotivated while Frank feels thrilled, not just for having the baby itself in the future but this will be his scapegoat to refuse Paris. April decided to abort the baby because she knows that this will greatly interfere her plans to go in Paris but Frank dissuade her and so they embark on a marital duel. April’s desperation becomes self destructive which is apparent when the latter has bled to death after attempting to induce a miscarriage. Frank on the other hand lacks will and boldness for change.
His dream for financial security and the affirmation he acquired from his company because of his sudden promotion made him set aside his wife’s dream to escape the monotonous and boring lifestyle in America. Basically American Dream in this novel specifically in April’s character means fulfilling one’s passion and desires through skills and talents. But for Frank American Dream is somehow based on practicalities, that is financial security and opportunities “all I want is to get enough dough coming in to keep us solvent for the next year or so, till I can figure things out; meanwhile, I want to retain my own identity”.
But apparently he sometimes excites himself to try something new as he is a man who naturally loves adventure and in trying something not routinary, he might find his true self and his true identity. Frank’s acquisition of a higher position that assure his family’s financial security and his acquisition of affirmation from his company hindered April to fulfill her American dream for freedom of artistic self expression. At the end, it can be said that it is Frank who wins.
But when April dies in her effort to fight the forces keeping her in her suburban housewife lifestyle, Frank due to pain becomes absorbed by the work he had once despised, and “dies” an inward death. At the end both of them is being failed by their American Dream.
Work Cited: Garfinkle, Norton. The American Dream Vs. the Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy. Connecticut USA Yale University Press, 2007 Yates, Richard. Revolutionary Road. New York USA Vintage Contemporaries, 2000