Plot Summary of Revolutionary Road Part I Chapters 1-2
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The novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates opens with a company of theatre performers who are pleased with their final rehearsal of the play, The Petrified Forest, after fearing they would never get their act together. It is opening night when the novel begins and the well-dressed, middle class audience is filtering in. The narrator of Revolutionary Road establishes the setting, letting us know, “The year was 1955 and place was a part of western Connecticut where three swollen villages had lately been merged by a wide and clamorous highway called Route Twelve” (4).
A woman named April Wheeler is the female star in the play and the audience remarks on how lovely she is and some know that she once attended one of the top drama schools in nearby New York City. “She was twenty-nine, a tall ash blonde with a patrician kind of beauty that no amount of amateur lighting could distort” (6) even if her hips were a bit wider than one might desire after bearing two children. The reader will come to find out that April Wheeler and her husband, Frank Wheeler, are the main characters in Revolutionary Road. The Wheeler marriage and all of its problems and dramas form the backbone of the plot of Revolutionary Road.
The play at the beginning of Revolutionary Road begins smoothly enough, but one thing after another goes wrong and before too long, it grows into a full-fledged disaster. Even the grace, beauty, and formal training of April Wheeler cannot save it from ruin. The audience is patient and polite, but it becomes clear that this has been a failed experiment in a grassroots community theatre project. The actors finish what they’ve started and the play humbly comes to a merciful end. After the show, many of the cast members are able to laugh away the failure, but April wishes to be left alone. She doesn’t want her husband Frank to even touch her and has no desire to follow through with the plans they made to join another couple, Shep and Milly Campbell, who are also involved with the play. She just wants to go home.
At the beginning of Chapter 2 we are given a description of Frank Wheeler as he makes his way back to comfort his wife backstage. The narrator of Revolutionary Road sums Frank up as being, “neat and solid, a few days less than thirty years old, with closely cut black hair and the kind of unemphatic good looks than an advertising photographer might use to portray the discerning consumer of well-made but inexpensive merchandise” (9). Even at this point in the plot and in this summary of Revolutionary Road we get the impression that Frank is a man who is always good with words—always knows what to say. But he trips over them with April, especially if she’s upset and moody, which this night she is. We get a quick character analysis of Frank Wheeler at this point in Revolutionary Road early on—he was in the Army, grew up middle class, and was a daydreamer as a youth. Frank is snapped out of his memories of his youth by his upset wife, whom he appeases by lying to Campbells to get out of drinks so he can take April home.
Chapter Two also provides the reader a summary of how Frank and April met, what they were like when they did—always on the verge of a fight but in love and interested in talking about “deep” subjects. The narrator snaps back to the present and the tension about living the “standard” suburban life becomes a hot topic between the two and their argument spirals out of control. They are not on speaking terms, especially after April angrily gets out of the car off the side of the road before finally getting back in again. We are ushered into a tense marriage by the end of the second chapter. At this point in this plot summary of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, this contentious issue of suburban life and unhappiness in a marriage should be one of the most important themes in Revolutionary Road to make note of.