In a society that promotes conformity it is hard enough to come to find oneself as an individual and to find your own identity. In a society that sucks the best out of our personality. Maintaining your own identity has little chance when being around a false image of affluence. This place is known as the suburbs. The ideas of deception pulled in a lot of people that were raised around nice families that only had the American Dream in their mind. In Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, Frank and April Wheeler are sucked into suburbia with the dream of raising their two kids in a safe and comfortable area. But, as the two quickly find out, suburbia is not all it's cracked up to be. Soon, suburbia and the complimentary standard gender role poses a problem for the couple as their relationship begins to deteriorate over time. But, in order to understand the situation, you must first understand the times.
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The suburbs were created as an escape from the hectic and, sometimes, dangerous life in the city. As time went on, the suburbs became known as a middles class paradise with ties to a nearby big city. Along with the suburbs came the stereotypical suburban family. The father was the head of the family while his wife was completely under his rule. Her main job was to take care of the kids and cook for the tired man when he got home. This family was supposed to have everything together and be the picture perfect example of the achievement of the American Dream. This stereotypical view of the suburbs created a strong misconception that attracted many families to the area and created a place void of individualism. The fantasy of the American Dream in the 1950s formed a naive view of suburban life and its equivalent standard gender roles and rigid view of the ideal family structure.
The American Dream in the 1950s produced an idealistic view of life in the suburbs. In Dwight D. Eisenhower's State of the Union address in 1954, he describes what is the beginning of suburbia when he says, "'The details of a program to enlarge and improve the opportunities for our people to acquire good homes will be presented to the Congress by special message on January 25. This program will include: Modernization of the home mortgage insurance program of the Federal Government"' (Eisenhower). This place, as endorsed by one of the most popular presidents of all time, was sugar-coated from its inception. When Eisenhower spoke, people listened. When he endorses a housing development that will "improve the opportunities" for anyone living there that can help them achieve the American Dream, the public was willing to jump on the bandwagon in a moment's notice. So began the false advertisement of the suburbs that ensnared so many families with good intentions of bringing up a beautiful family in a place that was supposed to ease them along the way. In an article about the history of American families, the author describes how people derived their beliefs on the typical suburban family by saying, "The "Leave It to Beaver" ideal of breadwinner father, full-time homemaker mother and dependent children was a fiction of the 1950s, she shows. Real families of that period were rife with conflict, repression and anxiety, frequently poor and much less idyllic than many assume; teen pregnancy rates in the '50s were higher than today" ("The Way"). The false impression that a popular television show had on 1950s society contributed to the even greater fallacy that all suburban families had everything together. The reality is that the suburbs was a place stricken with the same basic problems that everyone else had and maybe even more. Many families were under the impression that everything was going fine because they had all the elements of a traditional suburban family: a "breadwinning dad, a stay-at-home mom, and servile children. But, simply being able to claim these things does not make a family tantamount to the perfect family that they are perceived to be as evidenced by the "conflict, repression, and anxiety". In Richard Porton's article on the American Dream and the suburban nightmare, he describes the delusion that many families drowned in when he argues, "Lewis Mumford maintained that 'the suburb served as an asylum for the preservation of illusion.' He fumed that suburbia was 'not merely a child-centered environment; it was based on a childish view of the world'" (Porton). Since the suburbs were associated with prosperity and happiness, they also became linked to the American Dream. When families entered this "suburban paradise" they immediately became seduced by the lore and awe of finally achieving that dream. Unfortunately, many never came out of that dream and continued to be deceived by this fantasy land that was almost juvenile at times. It is easy, now, to be on the outside looking in and wonder how they fail to see that things crashing down around them. But since they were so deeply rooted in their dream world, it seemed that everything was going perfectly when, in reality, their personal life was a disaster. The American Dream provided the fuel that led to the conflagration that was the impractical view of suburbia.
The American Dream in the suburbs formed absurd family roles that were usually stereotypical. In an article about the role of women in the 1950s, the author explains, "Women who spent too much time outside the home, social commentators were quick to warn, were endangering their families, neglecting their husbands and especially their children. Life magazine, in a special issue devoted to the American woman, deplored the "changing roles" of married couples and placed most of the blame on the increasingly aggressive wife" ("Women's Roles"). The fact that women had to be regulated shows how they were mistreated and forced to fit into a role that no one could be completely happy with. A woman who wanted pursue a career was viewed as overaggressive and held responsible for the breakdown of the family. Women were expected to sacrifice themselves for the family and become stay-at-home mothers all because that is what American society says a "perfect" mother should do. In the same article, the author says, "The belief in a woman's destined social role was reinforced by the popular media of the dayâ€¦ The magazines of the time were filled with images of dedicated housewives whose only pleasures were that their families were satisfied and their chores made easier" ("Women's Roles"). From the start, women never really had a chance to become what they wanted or pursue a career. From an early age, it was drilled into them that they would become a mother and that they would look to their husband to bring home the bread and make important decisions. The American Dream stripped women of their ability to overcome the status quo by sending a relentless message that their purpose in life was to become a housewife and nothing more or less. In another article about the plight of the 1950s woman, the author says, "When women started complaining of boredom, society invented the sowing and quilt making clubs. They would do anything to please their men because their life depended on them so much. To disagree with her husband would have been the gravest of all errors. The men had almost total control over their wives" ("A Woman's Role"). Women who tried to establish themselves as an individual and stand up against society's twisted view of what a suburban family should look like were repeatedly shoved back into their "rightful" place. When women started getting out of line, men were quick to invent something to occupy their time and get their minds back on their tasks. Disagreeing with the man was an unforgiveable mistake that could have negative consequences in the future. In spite of their will to change, efforts to change the system were kept at bay by the scheming man who did not want to see his power diminished by a lowly, rebellious wife. Overall, the American Dream shaped an unjust role for women in suburban society.
In Revolutionary Road, the foolish quest for the American Dream creates an unbalanced family with identity problems and, quite often, complete subjugation. As Frank finally convinces April that having an abortion would be a terrible mistake, she cries in his arms as he proudly thinks, "And it seemed to him now that no single moment of his life had ever contained a better proof of manhood than that, if any proof were needed: holding that tamed, submissive girl and saying, 'Oh, my lovely; oh, my lovely,' while she promised she would bear his child" (Yates 52). The head of the family in the ideal suburban household was the father. This father was supposed to have everything in complete control and solve every problem that crossed his family. By conquering his wife's emotions and desires, Frank establishes himself as the rightful head of the family because that is what he thinks he is supposed to do. His actions were influenced by the ridiculous thinking of that time period and not because he truly believes that was how he should have handled the situation. When Frank tries to diagnose April's problems, he rants on and on about a story of a girl who wished to be a boy and says, "'I think we can assume, though,' he said, 'just on the basis of common sense, that if the most little girls do have this thing about wanting to be boys, they probably get over it in time by observing and admiring and wanting to emulate their mothers- I mean you know, attract a man, establish a home, have children and so on'" (Yates 245). Frank's ignorant comments show the fallacy in the thinking of the 1950s. He says that their goal in life was to attract men and bear their children. Frank's comments show the misunderstanding of suburban families because it is hard to believe that someone's lifelong goals would be that shallow and without any other ambitions. Women probably wanted more than that but were sucked into believing that that was all they should want which eliminated them as an individual and led them to be controlled by men. After a fight with April, Frank leaves to go do yard work and thinks to himself, "Even so, once the first puffing and dizziness was over, he began to like the muscular pull and the sweat of it, and the smell of the earth. At least it was a man's work. At least, squatting to rest on the wooded slope, he could look down and see his house the way a house ought to look on a fine spring day, safe on its carpet of green, the frail white sanctuary of a man's love, a man's wife and children" (Yates 47). Under the influence of suburban folklore, Frank feels that he needs to establish his identity as a man by physically exerting himself and doing something that no woman could do. The sweat on his brow and the strain of a good days work are what make Frank feel like a man all because someone said that was how a man should act and how a man should feel. The immense workload gives Frank a feeling of masculinity that no woman can give him. Instead of solving his problems with April, he decides to do what a "man" was supposed to do in that situation instead of the right thinking to do. By and large, the ideal suburban family was so heavily influenced by the American Dream that they failed to find themselves and, instead, fell into a general role that they did not belong nor function well in.
In Revolutionary Road, the American Dream has also created a warped and impractical view in the minds of suburban families. When April tries to convince Frank to move to Paris, she tries to pry him from his "suburban" way of thinking by arguing,
"Because you see I happen to think this is unrealistic. I think it's unrealistic for a man with a fine mind to go on working like a dog year after year at a job he can't stand, coming home to a house he can't stand in a place he can't stand either, to a wife who's equally unable to stand the same things, living among a bunch of frightened little - my God, Frank, I don't have to tell you what's wrong with this environment - I'm practically quoting you. Just last night when the Campbell's were here, remember what you said about the whole idea of suburbia being to keep reality at bay? You said everybody wanted to bring up their children in a bath of sentimentality. You said -'" (Yates 115).
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At this point, April finally sees the lies that they were sucked into when they first bought a home in the suburbs. She is trying to convince Frank who, although he has realized the same lies, is still having trouble letting go of a doctrine that he has held fast to for so long. She realizes that what she and Frank have been experiencing in the past few years is not reality and that they need to find a way to break free and Paris would be a great place to do so. In the same instance, April goes further to say, "That's how we both got committed to this enormous delusion- because that's what it is, an enormous, obscene delusion- this idea that people have to resign from real life and 'settle down' when they have families. It's the great sentimental lie of the suburbs, and I've been making you subscribe to it all this time"' (Yates 117). April continues to elaborate on the lies that were told to the couple when they entered the fabled suburbia. When they first got there, they were led to believe that starting a family was the end to real life. The whole time they had been living a lie that neither of them was willing to admit which caused a loss in crucial years of their lives that could have been spent establishing their family as a unique tight-knit group that was not influenced by the ignorance of the time period. When Frank and April go on a walk with John Givings, he fumes on and on about the self-deception of suburbia and the failures of society by stating, "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; â€¦and if old reality ever does pop out and say Boo we'll all get busy and pretend it never happened"' (Yates 68-69). John hits the nail on the head when he describes the fantasy that the people of the 1950s live in. He describes suburbia as a flowery place where everything looks the same and everyone lives far away from reality. When confronted with reality, they act as if it never occurred and go back to the dream that they never want to wake up from never mind the fact that it is destroying them as a person. The American Dream in their lives has distorted their take on reality and led to them to believe that their way of life is real. By listening to the lies of the American Dream, suburban families were deceived into creating a dream world away from bona fide life that the rest of the world had to face every day.
The desire for the American Dream in the mid-1900s created an immature outlook on suburban life and its corresponding gender roles and unyielding doctrine of the perfect family. Ever since its creation, suburbia has been sugarcoated to please potential home buyers and consequentially ensnared many families during the 1950s through its bold but enticing lies and the twisted view on what a real American family should look like. It produced absurd roles for a family that made it hard to function properly and took advantage of the wife by forcing her to subject to her husband. Furthermore, the suburbs distracted its residents from real life by giving them a false euphoria that rarely lasted long. Finally, it made many people give up their dreams and sacrifice their individuality in order to conform to its views. It's never beneficial to give up your identity which is why so many families have suffered and continue to suffer even today. Rather, it is always best to preserve the individual inside rather than change your beliefs and morals to fit society.
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