Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning is Saturday, and Frank wakes up hungover to the sound of April mowing the lawn, something he promised to do the previous weekend. He had stayed up drinking all night after April went to sleep. As he washes up, Frank looks at the hand he injured punching the car roof, which reminds him of his father Earl’s hands, and then of the fact that his dream the night before had been about his parents tenderly watching over him as he slept.
Frank deals with the upsetting fight by drinking and avoiding his responsibilities. April deals with it by taking on Frank’s responsibilities. Her mowing of the lawn seems to be another way of suggesting that he is not fulfilling his role as the man in the house. Meanwhile, Frank’s dream suggests his desire for more tenderness and nurturing—the opposite of the image he wants to project of masculinity and self-sufficiency.
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Frank’s parents had already raised two other sons and were tired and middle-aged by the time of his birth. Now they have both been dead several years, and he can hardly remember their faces. He does, however, remember the strength of his father’s hands and the sense that he could master any tool. Earl Wheeler had disapproved of Frank’s clumsiness, and later their relationship had soured. Frank had looked down on his father’s work as a salesman, his hunting, and his carpentry. No matter how much Frank rebelled, though, he always marveled at his father’s hands.
Frank’s relationship with his father as a child and young man continues to influence how he thinks about himself even after his father is dead and gone. Frank had known that his father felt disappointment in his son’s inability to master “manly” skills like carpentry, while Frank had looked down on his father’s occupation, seeing it as lacking in creativity and prestige.
Themes
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Although Frank feels that a psychoanalyst would have a lot to say about his troubled relationship with his parents, he always felt affection for them. April’s upbringing seems to him much more dysfunctional. Her parents were a flapper and playboy, who divorced before April turned one. April’s father killed himself in 1938, while her mother had died after spending years in rehab. April was raised by aunts, whom she said she never loved. She keeps a box full of small souvenirs, like a worthless white horse charm, from her parents’ visits to her. When Frank first heard about April’s parents at the Bethune Street place, he argued that April must have loved her aunts and not her parents. Her parents, he said, must have seemed glamorous, but she couldn’t have loved them having seen so little of them. April disagreed, however, saying she did love them, and Frank embraced and pitied her.
April’s parents were richer than Frank’s and led a much more glamourous, if tragic, life. Frank believes a psychoanalyst would say she was damaged by a lack of parental love. Frank also thinks that he can understand how April viewed her parents. Because he finds their dysfunctional, wealthy, bohemian lifestyle interesting and attractive, he imagines that this is what she felt for her parents. He imagines that she admires her parents’ freewheeling life for the same reasons he looked down on his own parents’ boring working class one.
Themes
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Frank plans to take over mowing the lawn from April after drinking some coffee, but at that moment Helen Givings drops by, bringing him a sedum planting. Helen is always in motion, always smiling and laughing falsely. Frank cannot bring himself to call her “Helen,” and she has stopped calling him by name too. Frank sees Helen notice that April is mowing the lawn while he is still in his bathrobe as she explains in detail what to do with the sedum. Helen calls loudly to April that she enjoyed the play. April turns off the lawnmower to hear her.
Frank feels threatened by April mowing the lawn, because he sees it as hard labor that is supposed to be done by a husband. He is especially self-conscious about this when Helen arrives and he sees her notice that he is not playing the husband’s role as she would expect. Helen’s cheery demeanor seems unnatural. She is a conformist who wants to always seem happy, because unhappiness is suspect.
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Frank says he thinks most people thought the play was not very good, but Helen says that it was fine except “Mr. Crandell” (Shep Campbell) was badly cast. Helen always speaks condescendingly of those who live in the Revolutionary Hill Estates, as the Campbells do. Helen seems to want to ask Frank something, but then reconsiders. She compliments him on the stone path he is installing in their lawn and departs in her station wagon.
Frank is annoyed at Helen for having caught him failing to live up to her expectations of a good man and husband. He counters her falsely upbeat praise for the play with a hardheaded assessment. Helen brushes this negativity aside and suggests that it was only the inclusion of lower-class people from the Estates that marred the play.
Themes
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Jennifer and Michael, the Wheeler children, run up to their father to see what Helen brought him. April approaches and he asks her what he should do with the plant. He doesn’t remember what the sedum is called or anything Helen said about it. April asks what she is supposed to tell Helen the next time she sees her, when they haven’t planted the plant. Frank says she should tell Helen to mind her goddamn business. Jennifer puts her thumb in her mouth and Michael grabs the crotch of his pants, both growing anxious. April refuses to take responsibility for the plant, telling Frank to get it out of sight and get ready for lunch. Frank brings the sedum to the basement and kicks it.
The Wheeler children are no sooner introduced than they are ignored by their fighting parents. This is typical of the Wheelers’ treatment of their children, as is their failure to notice that their angry behavior impacts Michael and Jennifer. Helen likely feels gardening is a woman’s work and would have preferred to give the plant to April, but could not because April was doing “man’s work” by mowing the lawn. Now April is upset that they will not be able to properly plant the sedum and angry at Frank for involving her in this embarrassing failure to conform to Helen’s expectations, and Frank gets angry in turn, taking out his frustrations on the plant itself.
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After lunch, Frank begins to work on the stone path. It is hard, tedious work, moving stones from the forest behind the house and digging holes in the lawn to lay them in, but he feels it is a man’s work. Jennifer and Michael watch him, and he tells them to be careful to stay out of the way of his shovel. Jennifer asks him why April slept on the couch. Frank responds that she did it because she felt like it, and thinks to himself that she never has any other reason for what she does. He thinks that it was easy for April to feel like being with him early in their relationship, when it involved nothing but making love and discussing books and movies in their Bohemian apartment in New York City. Especially since it was the first love she had ever known. Yet even then she had always seemed to have one foot out the door whenever anything went wrong.
Frank tries to find reassurance of his manliness in the hard labor he is doing. He gives little thought to Jennifer’s question about April and how she may feel about her parents’ tempestuous relationship. Instead, his answer to Jennifer only spurs him to think about April. He feels angry that she seems only to love him when the life he can provide is stylish, easy, and fun. The possibility that April might prefer a Bohemian life without responsibilities does not occur to him. Instead, her threats to leave him whenever anything goes wrong make him think there is something wrong with her or with her love for him.
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Frank remembers how April reacted to her unintended pregnancy. She had wanted to wait seven years before having a child, and after they learned she was pregnant, she wouldn’t talk to Frank, seeming to be in a state of shock or to be angry at him. Frank thought it was wrong that he needed to try to win her back with little jokes and comfort. A week later, April spoke to him seriously, saying an acting school classmate had told her a foolproof way to induce a miscarriage with a rubber syringe. Although Frank didn’t want a baby, he had fought with her bitterly, angry that she had planned the abortion without talking to him about it, as if he were nothing but an obstacle. After fighting all night, April had given in and agreed to have the baby, and this had seemed to Frank the best “proof of manhood” of his life.
April’s independent streak is disturbing to Frank. He cannot seem to understand that April has a strong personality that resists domination. Instead, he sees dominating her as a goal, one that will prove his strength and worth as a man. For April to have Frank’s baby would signal to him that he had achieved this dominance, while her decision to go out and buy the rubber syringe without consulting him signals how far he is from truly controlling her. Frank feels better about himself once he has convinced April not to have an abortion, even though he doesn’t want children any more than she does—a bleak situation for the children they already do have.
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Now, still digging a hole for the stone path, Frank thinks that having the baby he didn’t want was the beginning of it all: then he got the dull job, had another baby to prove the first wasn’t a mistake, moved to the suburbs. He did all this because he thinks April might feel like leaving him at any moment. Jennifer and Michael watch as he struggles to dig a hole, laughing as the shovel fails to cut through a root. He tells them to move away, but they come back. Suddenly, the tree root looks to him like Michael’s foot. Frank knows he is mistaken, but feels that he came close to hitting Michael’s foot with the shovel. He quickly grabs Michael and spanks him hard twice. Shocked, the children run to April. In his mind, Frank prepares to defend himself. Ignoring the truth, he thinks that it was only because he moved the shovel in time that Michael wasn’t injured.
Frank feels dissatisfied with the life that he pressured April to accept. As his children laugh at his struggle to build the path, Frank likely remembers his father’s disapproval of his lack of skill at such tasks. Frank feels that his children should admire his ability to do this kind of work the way that he admired his own father, but instead he feels undermined and belittled by his children as he once did by his father. Frank takes these feelings of disappointment in his own manliness out on Michael. From this incident we see that Frank is more than willing to lie – even to himself – to justify his actions in his own eyes and to April.
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