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'Revolutionary Road' and the Elegiac Form


As he is faced with the threat of more loss, that of their unborn child and, as they are both aware of the dangers of the abortion procedure, of April too, Frank desperately searches for a rhythm to live by that will rein in and control the events of the last section. In doing so he turns away from a cyclical, poetic model of experience and is swept away by a linear rhythm over which he has no control. This rhythm is time, represented by the calendar that looms in their kitchen, and falls outside of the bodily control and security that the previous cyclical rhythm permitted. In the consecutive days marked by the calendar that lead up to the ‘deadline’ of safe abortion, Yates presents a linear model of both experience and form. The ‘row on row of logical, orderly days’ that ‘lay waiting for intelligent use between now and the deadline’ (217) serve as a model of prose here, a numerical representation of the linear plot that Yates weaves into his cyclical narrative. The days pass with, to reference Lefebvre, an ‘intolerable’ feeling of dread and panic as the plot consistently pushes forwards towards April’s death. The narrator of the novel foreshadows this dread in his uneasy opening to the beginning of the third and final section of the novel. While Yates claims that ‘Our ability to measure and apportion time affords an almost endless source of comfort’ (213), he immediately counteracts this with an image of synchronized watches within a battle scene: controlled linear time, he suggests, makes warfare alarmingly efficient and effective. Time may well bring ‘order out of chaos’ and fix the ‘intolerable’ situation that the Wheelers are in by allowing them to measure their days out slowly and carefully. However, I suggest that this linear model of experience in fact signifies a lack of control, because it does not allow any room for emotional ‘work’. Frank cannot elegise his situation here as before in the garden because he lacks a cyclical, poetic rhythm to work with: he is instead carried by a monotonous process of arguments that never reach conclusion but threaten to continue endlessly in an undeviating plot of despair. While Frank is trapped in this linearity, Yates, I think, returns his readers to the poetic tendency of his novel, not simply to offer consolation, but to allow us to engage in the emotional ‘work’ from which both Frank and April are so tragically barred. With April’s death, the narrative reverts back to a cyclical poetic model of everyday living because of the way Frank and April’s story creates a new rhythm for their suburban community to endlessly, repetitively and cyclically discuss. It is this rotating aspect of revolution that I argue Yates embeds in his title and which spins the novel’s misfortune into a rhythmic experience that may have dizzied critics but that continues to pull readers into its orbit.


Works cited

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Bradfield, Scott. ‘Follow the Long and Revolutionary Road.’ The Independent November

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Kennedy, David. Elegy. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. Trans. Stuart Elden and

Gerald Moore. London: Continuum, 2004.

Price, Richard. ‘Make the bastards pay for it’. The Guardian 28 November, 2008.

Ramazani, Jahan. Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1994.

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John Hopkins University Press, 1985.

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Vonnegut, Kurt. ‘Remarks at the Richard Yates Memorial Service’. Harvard Review. Fall

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Yates, Richard. Revolutionary Road. London: Vintage, 2011.

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