Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Empty in the 'burbs - Book #2

Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road was published in 1961.  The setting of the story is a Connecticut suburb in the mid-1950's.  Frank and April Wheeler appear to be the perfect young couple with the perfect family in a perfect house at the end of a perfect road in a perfect suburb.  Except!  Things are not so perfect.  April tries to make something of herself in the suburbs and when that attempt fails, she puts her hope in helping Frank become something great.  As the book's summary says, "...they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner."  They silently focus on each other's deficiencies, and yet at the same time believe they have the potential to be better than everyone around them.  The story does not end in the form of a pretty package with a bow on it; it is an incredibly sad tale.  It is so sad that I didn't cry, and that's saying something.  The story as a whole sat at the forefront of my brain for three days after I finished it.

That said, I loved it.  I adore this book for two reasons.  The first is that it is beautifully written.  The second is that Yates poignantly shows how an average American couple becomes discontented with their lives.  Such writing is valuable as we seek solutions to make the world a better place.  Disclaimer before I continue:  I am not qualified to discuss this book well from a literary standpoint, so please remember that I'm just a reader with a reaction, which follows below.

April Wheeler did not receive Caddie Woodlawn's father's monologue about women and how they make the world a better place.  Or, if she did receive some such counsel, she ignored it.  She's living in the 1950's, a time when keeping house and raising children was, as I understand, heralded as a noble profession.  As a housewife/stay-at-home mom, April essentially rejects housekeeping and child rearing, and oh by the way, she never wanted to do it in the first place.  Her disdain with life turns around when she concocts a plan to go to work.  She does this under the guise of  giving her husband the opportunity to find out what it is he is really meant to do with his life.  Life puts a kink in that plan, and things in the Wheeler house come unraveled.  April thinks that getting away from the emptiness of her home will completely change her life.  And when that dream fades, she is sitting in an even emptier hole.  Implied in the book is that perhaps April had some mental instability that caused the emptiness.  I'm not convinced that there was any instability at all.  I think she just felt that her life held no meaning.

This story lurched my gut on many levels.  This is a book that I'd love to discuss theme by theme.  However, the empty housewife/mother theme is the one that screamed for my attention.  As a housewife/stay-at-home mom who does joyfully embrace her role but sometimes misses working, I could somewhat understand April's struggle.  Ultimately, I found her reaction so very, very tragic.  I wondered just how many other women in 2009 reject what used to be an honored role in life.  I pondered whether or not I'm imagining that rejection.  And if there is no financial reason for the wife to be earning money, I asked myself this question:  "What makes women think that working outside the home is less important than working in it?"  I'd love hear your thoughts.


  1. There is something to be said for going out to work that is positive,especially for a mom, like myself, who's full time job is in the home. The 2-3 Saturdays a month that I go out to the hospital to work as a nurse, I find very rewarding. I instantly get a feeling of "instant gratification". The minute I step into my car and I'm on my way I get a feeling of independence. I am in the car myself and there is quiet! I love it! Not that I don't love looking back and seeing my 6 year old there and not that I don't love to hear her talk - it's just different and it's for me (the quiet)!I then start to think of the nursing skills I know and the ones I'm going to use. It feels good to have some knowledge that I am going to use for something other than "mothering". Next, I go get my Dunkin Donut coffee. A treat for me that I usually don't do because "as a mother I feel I shouldn't spend $2 for a coffee everyday" (where that comes from?? I definently can afford it. That can be another conversation)But today it's for me, I'm independent from everything, everybody. At least that's my thoughts! I love it! I drive in the dark (I leave 6am) praising God, praying - I'm in heaven! I get to work.I love that the patients need me and I can help them. Instant Gratification! Oh how I love it!(the instant gratification that is)And to think, I'm getting paid, real money, not just compliments from my husband and daughter, but money.It feels good. Instant gratification! If I get a stable patient, while they're on the machine I can actually read a magazine! I'm in heaven again. By the end of the day, I miss my husband, my daughter. I can't wait to hear what they having been doing all day. As they tell me, part of me will mourn because I wasn't there with them. All the things I did for me this day will seem so minuscule. But I enjoyed it for what it was. Deep in my heart I know God has made me to be a wife and mother and as mundane as this "work" can be, when I step back from my flesh, it does give me much more than any "out of the home work". As soon as I see my husband/daughter, instant gratification overwhelmes me.Even though naturally I don't "feel" like my work as a wife/mother is important, I KNOW it is very important to God and those I serve in my home! I pray I do it joyfully!
    So to answer your question Staci, I think it is, our wanting to be independent,our wanting to be thinking of ourselves only. After a few hours of it, it leaves you feeling empty.I am very thankful that I do not have to work full time.

  2. I would love, love to see a greater societal value placed on the very real work that mothers, wives, homemakers and other non-paid caregivers do.

    At the same time, I am concerned that expectations for wives/mothers/homemakers are elevated to such a high level, that no one can ever really "measure up."

    The combination of the devaluation of non-paid work in the home and unrealistic ideals for that same work, makes working outside the home so very, very attractive to many people.

    Like Margie alluded to, the immediate affirmation that you are doing a GOOD job, a much needed job is something you don't get at home. And yet. . . what can compare to the hugs and smiles of raising children, knowing we are investing in their lives and eternity? What can compare to building that lifetime love and camaraderie with our husband?

  3. Tulip and Margie...thanks so much for your comments. Margie, I do desperately miss is the instantaneous satisfaction of a job well done that comes with working. And Tulip, I fully agree with you regarding the high expectations for housewives and the feeling that we won't "measure up". There are so many women out there (the two of you included!) who are contributing greatly as you are in the workforce. And because women are doing well outside the home, I'm not sure that we'll ever again see the day where there will be a general societal acceptance of women working solely in the home.

    I'm getting ready to review two non-fiction books that address this issue, so watch out for it!