After the play, Frank makes his way towards April’s dressing room, wondering what he should say to his wife. He is also twenty-nine, neatly dressed, and with an expressive face. All day long at his boring job in New York City, Frank had pictured himself soothing his wife’s nerves and congratulating her on her success, and he is unprepared to deal with what happened. The performance was like watching the girl he fell in love with turn into the unhappy, tense, reproachful woman she has become.
Frank’s investment in his wife’s success in the play is about his own self-image. Her performance is a momentous occasion in his life, but not because he cares so much about her—instead, he had hoped that she would both succeed (making him slook good in the process) and need his reassurance to feel good about herself. With his fantasy destroyed, Frank must now deal with who his wife really is.
Backstage the Laurel Players are trying to laugh off their failure. Milly Campbell calls to Frank that she and Shep will see him and April later for a drink, and Frank agrees. He goes into April’s dressing room and bends to kiss her, planning to say that she was wonderful, but she recoils, and he says, “I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph” instead. Stiffly, she agrees, then asks him to tell Milly and Shep that they can’t go for a drink because they need to get home to their babysitter. Frank says he already told the Campbells they would go. April says she is not going and will go home without him. Apologizing, Frank goes back out and tells the Campbells the lie about the babysitter. Milly asks if April is very upset about the performance, but he says she is fine. Milly and Shep can tell he is lying, and they are hurt.
While most of the Laurel Players decide not to take the play’s failure too seriously, for Frank and April this is impossible. April is determined not to admit how upset she is, conforming to the general practice of pretending everything is fine when she insists that Frank lie to the Campbells about the babysitter. She is also unwilling to pretend she hadn’t taken the play seriously and doesn’t feel personally wounded by its failure. For Frank, April’s unwillingness to confide in him is a new hurt on top of his disappointment in the play.
Frank and April leave the backstage and walk silently through the high school towards the parking lot. Frank remembers his own high school experience, especially a time when he planned to run away and ride freight trains across the country. He had planned to go alone, but then impulsively asked a boy to come with him. The boy had belittled his plan and said he was a jerk. Frank begins to also think about the suffering in April’s childhood, although he usually finds it difficult to sympathize with her because she talks about her childhood unsentimentally. He remembers a story she told him about a time when she suddenly got her period in school and had to run to the bathroom with a red stain on her white skirt, dripping blood on the floor.
As Frank and April walk through the high school, Frank thinks about humiliating experiences each of them had as adolescents. Frank’s experience involved trying to do something adventurous and being mocked as insufficiently tough to pull it off. This memory relates to his preoccupation with not being tough and independent as he believes a man should be. April’s experience was an instance in which she had been unable to control and hide her body. It is about having her status as a woman undermine and humiliate her.
April and Frank get into their car, and April sits far from him. Frank begins to give his opinion of the play, but April asks if they can drive in silence, and he agrees. To put the play’s failure in perspective, Frank returns in his mind to his early twenties, when he was out of the army and studying at Columbia College, where everyone thought he would have a brilliant career doing something creative. He shared an apartment on Bethune Street with two other men who often brought women there. As college ended, Frank felt at a loss for what he would do, and it bothered him that he had never dated a “first-rate girl.” Then he had met April at a party. After a week they slept together, and she said he was the most interesting person she had ever met.
Trying to recover from the blow to his self-esteem that April’s failure dealt him, Frank thinks back on the time in his life when he gained self-confidence. Unlike when he was a teen, when people doubted his abilities, by the time he was a young man Frank inspired confidence and admiration in others. But what really helped him to believe in himself was seducing a “first-rate” woman. To Frank, “first-rate” is a combination of physical beauty, elegance, and good taste. It is because he thinks April has this quality that her approval of him means so much.
Frank begins to talk again, saying that it’s bad enough that they must live among boring suburbanites; they don’t also need to get hurt by them. April asks him to stop talking again. Frank pulls the car off the highway and tries to embrace her, but she asks to be left alone. Frank gets angry at April, calling her melodramatic, and she gets out of the car and runs to the roadside. He is scared for a moment that she means to kill herself and demands that she get back in the car. They begin to fight, insulting one another. April recalls a time when Frank hit her, and says that he isn’t a man. Frank punches the roof of the car hard. They begin to drive home.
April wants to be alone with her thoughts, but Frank cannot bear this separation between them. Frank suggests that April should be above caring about the play’s failure, because she ought to feel superior to the people around them and not care what they think—even though he clearly cares about the play as well. To get back at Frank for refusing to give her space, April attacks him at his most vulnerable point: his belief in his own masculinity. In anger and to prove himself, Frank acts violently, continuing the unhealthy cycle that is becoming apparent in their marriage.
Frank and April drive down Revolutionary Road, the same road they traveled two years earlier with Helen Givings, when she showed them their house. Helen had been impressed by them and had shown them a home she thought was more tasteful than the other, newer developments like the Revolutionary Hill Estates. The house had given Frank and April a sense that they might sort out their problems if only they lived in a clean house like this. They planned to arrange the furniture to make the cookie-cutter house look stylish. Arriving home now, the Wheelers see that the house did not live up to its promise: it doesn’t look like a home.
When Frank and April moved to the suburbs, they thought that they would be able to infuse their home with their own characters, to keep it from looking too much like all the other homes around them and make it exceptional—like they believed themselves to be. In doing this, they thought they might be able to come closer together as a couple. In the wake of the show’s failure, their inability to live up to their ideas of themselves hits them once again.
After driving the babysitter home, Frank returns to the house and enters the bedroom. He sits on his and April’s bed and tells her he is sorry. He reflects that she cannot run away now, and that although it will take time, they will get through this fight like they have gotten through others. Then he realizes the bed is empty. He runs through the house until he finds April on the living room sofa. She asks him to go away. Frank apologizes to her, but she only asks him to leave her alone.
Unlike April, Frank believes that their problems can be fixed by apologizing and moving forward. For him, having April accept his apology would remedy the entire problem. But April has feelings that have nothing to do with Frank. She is not in bed waiting for him, but seeking solitude and personal space.