“It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.”
A white picket fence, a big house, a wife and a couple of kids, a dog running around the yard… the idyllic “American Dream.” These were the goals by which you could measure your success in the 50’s. If all went according to plan, you could go to work at a great job and come home in a schmaltzy “Honey, I’m home!” fashion, patting your kids on the head as you walk through the door, greeting your wife as she places your dinner on the table. This, of course, was a façade perpetrated by shiny Coca-Cola ads and cloyingly cute TV sitcoms.
Reality was a bit different. Keeping up appearances was of the utmost importance; the neighbors would likely talk behind your back if your grass were to grow wild! And surely there is a separate circle of gossip hell reserved for families that are heard screaming at each other from the bay windows! If the connubial relationship is on the rocks, what option do you have but to grin and bear it? Divorce is not an option, lest you long to end up a social pariah.
As much as it is human instinct to try to “fit in” and blend with the crowd, it is also a human need to achieve some semblance of individuality. This is where the Wheelers, the family in this story, face their biggest dilemma. Frank, the patriarch, feels that he is too much of an intellectual to be hanging out with his Philistine friends. His wife, Jennifer, is equally tired of her daily grind. Delusions of grandeur lead the couple to believe that they might fare better in Europe. Yet, how realistic of an idea is such a move? Are they really any different than anyone else in the neighborhood?
I never saw the film, but the book was phenomenal. The main characters are heartbreakingly pathetic, and saddest of all, reading of their plight can, at times, be a lot like looking into a mirror. As human beings, we seem to have nothing but dreams; this is what keeps us constantly moving forward. Consequently, this can also make waking up all the more difficult.