Thursday, June 6, 2013

"The Revolutionary road" – An insight into the American Dream

"The Revolutionary road" – An insight into the American Dream
- A work of literary fiction by Richard Yates
- A sensitive film by Sam Mendes


The “American Dream” is both a gift and a curse. A gift: primarily because it propels individuals to tenaciously pursue their vocation and keep striving for more without the restraints of tradition, education, creed or opportunities; a Curse: because it leaves men and women in a perpetual state of discontent, an inner void that defies fulfillment and a perpetual need for change, more often than not leading their lives to shambles. It is this friction in American society that lubricates its material growth,and ironically fuels its quest for that elusive state of Psychological balance (Intentionally, I avoid using the phrase “spiritual balance”) and creates the aura and myth that entices the entire world to partake of the American Dream.

Richard Yates, the author of “The Revolutionary road”, is in many ways an unlucky writer. He lived and wrote in age of American fiction where style, intellectual snobbism, high browed media hype was the norm, and he, with his non pretentious style, without posing to be modernistic, gently spoke about the mediocrity and sadness that is prevalent in the hearts of majority of suburban American homes. His works were well received critically, but hardly ever sold enough to become a best seller. He chronicled the emotionally turbulent years between the 30’s and 60’s as one else did. He was able to capture the mundane emotions of a middle class family living in a quiet town , going about their routine mechanical jobs, pretending to be nice to each other, secretly aspiring to be someone else , and above all, nursing within their bosoms the “the American dream” of untapped potential and the need to “move on” in life. What is distinctive about Yates in “Revolutionary Road”–and throughout his work–is not merely the bleakness of his vision, but how that vision adheres not to war or some other horror but to the aspirations of everyday Americans, and that is scary. In his portrayal of the ‘Wheelers’, Yates unravels the slow erosion of the marriage and the dreams of Frank and April Wheeler, a suburban couple who believe themselves to be better than their banal surroundings, and get carried away by the glitz and glamour of the free world. Their relationship which begins with endless fascination for each other slowly degenerates into a farcical relationship , based upon what they believe to be the true way of living – in other words: to be successful.

In my opinion, one of the lasting contributions of Yates is his insistence on the blunt reality of failure in life. It is a common fact that failure was and is much more common than success, and endurance, the best that could be hoped for. In this world, not everyone one is saved by luck or bailed out by coincidence; no understanding lovers or friends or parents or children, made the unbearable suddenly pleasant. Fortunes don’t change overnight for everybody; they just followed a track into a dead end and left one there. This will remain the lasting legacy of Richard Yates.

During my stay in New Hampshire three weeks back, I had an opportunity to see an adaption of this book for the silver screen. The picture starred Kate Winslet and Leonardo diCaprio. I had read the book earlier, and so was so completely mesmerized by the brilliant enactment of the wheeler family by these two glorious actors. The film was directed by Sam Mendes (Kate Winslet’s ex-husband), whose works include the likes of “The American beauty” and “The road to perdition” - each a classic in its own right. Every frame captured the masterful stokes of Yates pen. Kate winslet played the role of an unfulfilled wife to perfection. Every movement bespoke of a total mastery of the underlying theme of the book - the inevitability of mediocrity. I would like to conclude this essay by quoting one of the finest examples of yates assessment of Modern American life: “No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.”. And you will feel these words pierce through your souls as Kate winslet passionately, yet with all the desperation possible, voices these words to her Husband – egging him to live the dream, An American Dream. Ironically, it is one of those seminal moments in the book and the movie when their family falls apart. In the end, was the dream worth it? Yates leaves us with that conundrum.

Read the book and then watch the film. It’s a rare kind of education in this frenzied world that we live in.

God bless…..

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