by Andy Piascik, activist, author
Connecticut’s Fairfield County has cities that, even in their bustling heydays, were places rife with poverty and despair. It is also historically a place where the well-to-do and richest of the rich live. Both have been the subject of much literature, and Richard Yates’s 1961 Revolutionary Road is one of the best novels about the latter.
Set in 1955, the novel is the story of Frank and April Wheeler. Frank commutes from Fairfield County to Manhattan where he is employed at Knox Business Machines. Though well paid, Frank feels diminished by his job and regularly makes fun of it.
Similarly, Frank and April mock their neighbors. They see something hollow at the core of the suburban dream, and it becomes important they believe they are better than their surroundings. Out of their unhappiness comes April’s idea that they move to Paris.
Their neighbors and Frank’s colleagues resent the fact that the Wheelers make clear what they all seem to know: their well-constructed lives in the Connecticut suburbs have not produced happiness. Frank is never as enthusiastic about Paris, however, and the plan soon unravels. Heated arguments and recriminations ensue followed, ultimately, by tragedy.
No Escape From Unhappiness
As is true today, the Fairfield County suburbs are depicted as the ultimate badge of success. Problems are supposed to be absent or at least easily solve-able. While it’s likely no one ever believed that, the toll unhappiness takes is greater because of the promise.
Yates also dissects the emptiness of life in the United States at what is often viewed as its apex. Fairfield County represented all that the country aspired to be in the 1950s, yet the people in Revolutionary Road find it is seriously lacking.
Because not so much has changed, Revolutionary Road is still powerful and relevant. Parts of Fairfield County are wealthier than ever, yet unhappiness, perhaps especially among the young, is an ongoing problem. While those problems are not on the scale of those in Connecticut’s poorest cities, they remain a blight on the American Dream.
What distinguishes Revolutionary Road from contemporary Fairfield County novels with similar themes like Sloan Wilson’s The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit and Laura Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement is that it ends in tragedy and defeat. It is perhaps for that reason that neither the novel nor the film adaptation that starred Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, no less, were well-received.
Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article was published at connecticuthistory.org