Revolutionary Road

by Richard Yates

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Student Question

What does John symbolize in Revolutionary Road?

Quick answer:

In Revolutionary Road, John Givings could be a symbol for the hypocrisy of his parents and the other suburban denizens. He also might symbolize hope for the Wheelers.

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In Richard Yates’s novel Revolutionary Road, John Givings could symbolize the hypocrisy of the other suburban characters. While it’s John who’s in a mental institution and deemed insane, it wouldn’t be absurd to say that it’s his parents, the Campbells, and maybe even the Wheelers who are insane, or acting unreasonably. In a way, John represents the scapegoat. Instead of coming to terms with the mechanical, unthinking conformity of their own lives, they project their disordered feelings onto John.

John often comes across as one of the few insightful, thoughtful characters in the novel. When the Wheelers bring up their potential move to Paris, John is encouraging. It makes sense for the Wheelers to want to escape an environment that leads to reoccurring tension and unhappiness.

Indeed, the relationship between John and the Wheelers makes it seem like there is a chance for the Wheelers to break free from their confining situation. Here, John could symbolize hope. The Wheelers connections to John might give them hope that they won’t conform either.

After all, Frank sees the “hopeless emptiness of everything in this country.” Frank doesn’t treat John how others do. He treats him like a human. In fact, Frank is quite skeptical of John’s supposed mental issues. He quips to April that John is probably just like the other myriad “uncertified insane people” that they know.

Again, John seems to symbolize the way in which calling someone insane has less to do with their own mental health and more to do with the environment and people around them. John also seems to symbolize hope for the Wheelers. Unfortunately, that hope doesn’t really pan out.

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