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Importance of Communication in Relationships: Analysis of Revolutionary Road and On Chesil Beach

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The relationships between the central characters in Revolutionary Road and On Chesil Beach are ravaged by poor communication as a result of personal conflicts. As Mortimer Adler said, “love without communication is impossible” and this rings poignantly true for April and Frank as well as Florence and Edward in their respective texts. For both couples, their fundamental personal conflicts shatter their communication and this is arguably the crux of the downfall of their relationships. Societal oppression, however, also plays a pivotal role in the disintegration of April and Frank’s and Florence and Edward’s relationships as it puts an untold amount of pressure on them and arguably threatens their marital stability.

The poor communication which tarnishes Florence and Edward’s relationship becomes apparent at a fetal stage in On Chesil Beach. Their arrival at their honeymoon destination, a Georgian hotel along Chesil Beach, marks the start of both the novel and their relationship’s disintegration. Chesil Beach “with its infinite shingle” is rich in symbolism as it reflects the vast expanse of married life that lies before them, as well as the seemingly limitless potential of their journey as newlyweds. Critic Tim Adams, notes that Chesil Beach “seems emblematic of several things: of this moment of certainty in lives that might never again seem certain; of the path that they have just embarked on together, a path which, like all married couples in love they believe they will be making new.” This quote captures the inherent romanticism and tragedy of Chesil Beach, as it reflects the promising yet uncertain nature of events that are to unfold there over the course of Florence and Edward’s honeymoon. The symbolism is bittersweet as whilst Chesil Beach represents hope and potential, it also mirrors the uncertainty and precariousness of what is to come in the form of the impending consummation. “Gentle thunder” from Chesil Beach permeates Florence and Edward’s honeymoon suite and as a result of such effective pathetic fallacy, an unsettling sense of tension is created in the midst of an atmosphere that is already claustrophobic and strained. McEwan utilizes mundane everyday objects to amplify the sexual tension in the room, from the white bedcover which is stretched “startlingly smooth, as though by no human hand” to the starter which features a single glazed cherry. The glazed cherry itself illustrates the misconceptions which have already begun to ravage the newlyweds’ communication. Through Edward’s eyes Florence eats it provocatively as “playfully, she sucked it from his fingers and held his gaze.” In actual fact, however, this act fills her with anxiety as she is conscious of the fact that she is leading him on sexually toward a prospect which fills her with fear and dread. Via her internal monologue, McEwan reveals her sense of duty and hopelessness as she discloses that: “she should not start what she could not sustain, but pleasing him in any way was helpful; it made her feel less than entirely useless.” The glazed cherry and Florence’s internal monologue reveal the first of many misconceptions which will play a key role in tarnishing the couple’s communication and the subsequent disintegration of their relationship.

A similar sense of ravaged communication is made apparent at an early point in Revolutionary Road. The novel’s opening centers around the Laurel Players, whose production symbolizes a desire to transcend the mundanity of the suburbs. It is a slice of the sophisticated culture that holds so much promise: “the brave idea of it, the healthy, hopeful sound of it” and its failure has a profound impact on April, who is elusively introduced as Gabrielle, the heroine of the disastrous production. She is mortified as despite her New York theatre training, she “was as bad as the others, if not worse.” The play’s failure sparks a deep turmoil within her and Frank, as their belief that they are intellectually superior to their suburban counterparts is tainted bitterly as a result. Frank’s response to the disastrous performance reflects their poor communication which plays a key role in the disintegration of their relationship. His internal monologue reveals the disparity between what he thinks he should say and what he actually says: “What he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say, “Listen you were wonderful.” Something as minute as “the recoil of her shoulders” however, prompts him to think that it may be “condescending, or at the very least naive and sentimental” and he jauntily says instead: “Well, I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph or anything, was it?” His internal monologue illustrates his own conflicted thought process and the disconnected nature of their relationship as it exposes his inability to communicate with his wife. Their communication is ravaged by overthinking and this, in my opinion, is largely responsible for the disintegration of their relationship.

April and Frank’s journey home to Revolutionary Road serves to highlight their severed communication as Frank ruthlessly persists with the subject of the disastrous performance despite April’s insistence that she doesn’t want to talk about it: “All right. Could we sort of stop talking about it now?” His relentless discussion of the topic eventually becomes too much for April, leading her to erupt in a state of emotional frustration. Their first vicious shouting match ensues, a mark of disastrous communication which can be traced back to Frank’s insensitive inability to drop the subject. The sad irony is that he is so consumed by his desire to say the right thing that he overlooks the fact it would be better to say nothing at all since the subject at that moment is simply too distressing. Through his unrelenting discussion of the topic: “God knows they all stank. The whole point is we should’ve known better in the first place. I should’ve known better”, the sense is created that he isn’t listening to what April is saying as he ignores her requests for him to drop the subject: “All right Frank. Could you please just stop talking now, before you drive me crazy?” This is a key element of their poor communication as it illustrates how Frank persistently ignores his wife and reflects April’s voicelessness within their relationship and the text more generally. Frank quite literally dominates the novel’s narrative. It is conveyed solely through his perspective with the exception of one short chapter towards the end of the novel. This male-dominated narrative structure reflects April’s silenced position within her marriage and contributes to their unhealthy communication which is plagued by an imbalance of power. This imbalance of power is reflected structurally via the dominance of Frank’s perspective of events, as well as verbally via the fact that Frank persistently ignores what April is saying. April’s frustration at Frank’s smothering reflections on the play culminates in an emotive outburst where she physically begins to run away from him and his unrelenting discussion of it “She was out of the car and running away in the headlights.” An element of hysteria is created via her crazed repetition of the phrase “Leave me alone. Leave me alone!” and a distinctly claustrophobic atmosphere is presented via the imagery of entrapment which is present within her line: “Just because you’ve got me safely in this little trap.” This line reflects their severed communication and outlines how their relationship is disintegrating in the midst of a violent argument and an inability to communicate with each other. Ultimately, Frank’s tendency to blatantly disregard April’s views and feelings reflect a key element of their poor communication which is largely responsible for the disintegration of their relationship.

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Nevertheless, societal oppression must also be examined when considering the disintegration of April and Frank’s relationship. April’s confinement in a patriarchal society breeds feelings of frustration and alienation which are key to the disintegration of their relationship. Contextually, second-wave feminism had not yet sparked and American women of the 1950s were often confined to the home. Betty Friedan coined the term “the problem that has no name” when referring to the dissatisfaction that such women felt with their unfulfilling lives. According to Sabrina Patrizio, Friedan “addresses the plight of the suburban housewife suffocated by social expectations and trapped by her white picket fence”. This rings true for April, as married middle-class women of the time were often limited to the role of a housewife and mother. The inequality which permeates their relationship as a result of a patriarchal society is illustrated by the juxtaposition of Frank’s freedom against April’s confinement. The excitement of Bart Pollock’s bid to recruit him highlights April’s limited existence within their home as her days are filled with the mundanity of chores and childcare. Bart’s attempt to entice Frank into accepting a new job: “This thing I’m talking about would amount to a brand new job for you. Something that could turn into a very challenging, very satisfying career for any man” appeals to his innate desire for success. April, on the other hand, had spent that same day: “at a kind of work she had always hated and lately allowed herself to neglect: cleaning parts of the house that didn’t show.” As such, societal inequality permeates their relationship and plays a key role in its disintegration as it is a driving force of April’s unhappiness. April ultimately fails bitterly in her attempts to transcend her societal confinement. Her role in the Laurel Player’s production is an attempt to re-connect with the actress that she once was and it ends in disastrous humiliation. Similarly, their move to Paris symbolizes a new beginning which will liberate April from the constraints of American society by providing for her family independently: “The point is you won’t be getting any kind of a job because I will.” When her unplanned pregnancy throws this plan into turmoil, however, her hopes of independence are shattered and she is once again restricted to the role of a housewife and mother: “A little while! Two years? Three years? Four? How long do you think it’ll be before I can take a full-time job? Darling, think about it a minute. It’s hopeless.” As Jonathan Tran notes, April’s pregnancy will “end their hopes of escape” as it will be impossible for her to work in Paris whilst she is pregnant. Due to a damning combination of circumstance and patriarchal oppression, April spirals into a state of alienation and resentment which kills any hope of a happy relationship with Frank. This has dire implications for their communication as her growing frustration at her entrapment culminates in her repulsion at Frank’s presence as she is reduced to screaming uncontrollably in an attempt to make him leave her alone: “In fact, I loathe the sight of you. In fact, if you come any closer if you touch me or anything I think I’ll scream.” “It was plainly a false scream, done while she looked coldly into his eyes, but it was high, shrill and loud enough to shake the house.” As such, societal oppression ravages the couple’s communication as April’s stifling oppression renders her unable to express her feelings. Her inability to communicate with Frank as a result of this is key to the disintegration of their relationship.

Societal oppression of a different sort permeates Edward and Florence’s marriage throughout On Chesil Beach and helps bring about the disintegration of their relationship. It is revealed in the novel’s very first line that: “they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible” and this in itself is arguably responsible for the disintegration of their relationship. Societal oppression makes it literally impossible for Florence to confide in Edward about her fear of consummating their marriage. Tim Adams notes the parallel between the novel’s context and Philip Larkin’s ‘Annus Mirabilis: “Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three.” This extract captures the exuberance of the time in which they wed; as they were just on the cusp of the sexual liberation of the sixties. Confined in a context of silence and isolation where the topic of sex is heavily censored, Florence is simply unable to express how she feels. Her internal monologue reveals the isolation and dread that she experiences, as she reveals that she is “alone with a problem she did not know how to begin to address.” Her confusion is amplified by rhetorical questions “But what could she have said, what possible terms could she have used when she could not have named the matter to herself?” Her internal monologue and confused thoughts vividly illustrate the contextual culture of silence which is impeding their communication and ensnaring Florence in a trap of deafening silence. McEwan utilizes narrated thought, defined by Hannah Courtney as “the step-by-step thought progressions of a character” which “conveys finite detail of character consciousness” masterfully throughout the novel as it vividly conveys the depth of Florence’s fear and disgust. The prolonged nature of her thoughts creates the sense that time itself has stood still as she is enmeshed in the horror of her situation which culminates in Edward’s sudden ejaculation all over her: “coating her belly, thighs and even a portion of her chin and kneecap in a tepid, viscous fluid.” Ultimately, due to societal oppression regarding open sexual conversations, Florence is left isolated and unable to communicate with Edward. Arguably, this puts their relationship under a tremendous amount of strain and is hence primarily responsible for its disintegration. Florence is consumed by a patriarchal view of intercourse which was prominent in Britain in the 1960s. This is conveyed via her internal monologue which is heavy with emotive language as it reveals her inability to verbalize the plethora of emotions that are evoked at the prospect of consummation: “a dry physical sensation of tight shrinking, general revulsion at what she might be asked to do, shame at the prospect of disappointing him and of being revealed as a fraud.” “But it was better to talk of being scared than admit to disgust or shame.” This reflects how a patriarchal society has tainted her view of intercourse as a process that must be endured to satisfy her husband. Her fear of disappointing Edward and her awareness of her duty to satisfy him reflect the misogynistic nature of perceptions of intercourse in the 1960s, whereby the focus was placed not on a woman’s own sexual pleasure but on her duty to satisfy her husband. Florence’s entrapment by this warped view of intercourse alongside the societal censorship of sex results in her incomprehension of female sexual pleasure and in her fear of telling Edward the truth about her sexual reservations. Hence, their relationship arguably disintegrates due to a lack of communication which is created by societal oppression.

When considering the disintegration of the relationships in the two texts, it is clear that poor communication accelerates the rate of disintegration. This manifests in vicious shouting matches in April and Frank’s case and a single violent exchange in Florence and Edward’s case which alters the course of their lives irreversibly and results in the annulment of their marriage. Consumed by frustration and confusion, Edward lashes out at Florence: “Do you know what you are? You’re frigid, that’s what. Completely frigid. But you thought you needed a husband and I was the first bloody fool who came along.” In response to this, Florence can only apologize profoundly: “I am sorry Edward. I am most terribly sorry.” This line in all the meekness of its tone is uttered “in little more than a whisper” and illustrates the profound sense of guilt and anguish that she experiences as a result of her inability to consummate their marriage. It will have a lasting impact on Edward as it is the final thing that she says to him before they part ways forever: “her words, their particular archaic construction, would haunt him for a long time to come.” The inherent tragedy of their parting is illustrated poignantly by McEwan as he conveys the empty and meaningless nature of Edward’s life without her by condensing it into four pages which contrasts vividly with his extended presentation of their honeymoon. The breakdown of their communication has caused Edward to spout vile insults to the woman he loves and as a result, a profound sense of sadness is left in their wake as he “angrily turned from her.” Their communication has ultimately broken down due to an oppressive society that prevents them from speaking openly and honestly about their consummation difficulties. As such, this crippling societal oppression that censors the topic of intercourse is primarily responsible for the disintegration of their relationship.

Societal oppression arguably impacts these relationships on a much deeper level than poor communication and is the root cause of the failure of both Florence and Edward’s and April and Frank’s relationships. Patriarchal societal oppression is central to April’s undoing as it ensnares her in a trap of homely domesticities which she begins to resent bitterly. Throughout the novel, she communicates poorly with Frank and a tone of understated resentment permeates her speech as she asks multiple scathing questions which reflect her indifference to their relationship: “No, I don’t mean why did you have the girl; I mean why did you tell me about it? What’s the point? Is it supposed to make me jealous, or something? Is it supposed to make me fall in love with you, or back into bed with you, or what? I mean what am I supposed to say?” She is a frustrated and alienated character whose plan to transcend her oppression by moving to Paris falls apart due to her unplanned pregnancy. Sabrina Patrizio is apt in her analysis that April as a “1950s housewife” “is continually foiled in her attempts at independence and grows increasingly more frustrated”. Her crippling frustration culminates in her tragic suicide which reflects the alienation she experienced in society and in a marriage that oppressed her. Before her suicide, April and Frank enjoy a moment of open communication whereby Frank asks April to tell him how she feels: “Why don’t you say what you feel?” and she responds by saying: “I have. I don’t feel anything.” This reflects the inherent tragedy of April’s character; as she has been so drained by patriarchal oppression that she has become devoid of all emotion. It also illustrates how societal oppression has doomed the couple’s communication as it has brought April to the point where she simply has nothing more to say to him.

To conclude, societal oppression, quite simply, brings April and Fran’s relationship to its knees and is hence the factor that is primarily responsible for its disintegration. Similarly, societal oppression prohibits Florence and Edward from having an honest conversation about her sexual fears and this is, in my opinion, the inherent tragedy of On Chesil Beach; as it was so needless, so preventable. Ultimately, societal oppression causes the fractured communication that both couples endure throughout both texts and is as such primarily responsible for the disintegration of their relationships.

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Importance of Communication in Relationships: Analysis of Revolutionary Road and On Chesil Beach. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-communication-in-relationships-analysis-of-revolutionary-road-and-on-chesil-beach/
“Importance of Communication in Relationships: Analysis of Revolutionary Road and On Chesil Beach.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-communication-in-relationships-analysis-of-revolutionary-road-and-on-chesil-beach/
Importance of Communication in Relationships: Analysis of Revolutionary Road and On Chesil Beach. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-communication-in-relationships-analysis-of-revolutionary-road-and-on-chesil-beach/> [Accessed 5 Feb. 2023].
Importance of Communication in Relationships: Analysis of Revolutionary Road and On Chesil Beach [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-communication-in-relationships-analysis-of-revolutionary-road-and-on-chesil-beach/
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