Since the middle part of the 20th century, businesspeople have been placed at the center of public attention. In a market economy, the business development of production and infrastructure, employment, and a full range of industrial relations depend on businessmen. Since the end of the 20th century, they firmly hold their place in the socio-economic system of society that determines a certain type of consciousness and culture in society. Business in the readers’ comprehension is associated not only with the content of activities but also with the strong moral and behavioral principles of a businessman. Therefore, the depiction of the businessman character in American literature has become a significant issue in terms of creating a business culture in society. The novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates represents the story of the ordinary middle-class worker in the context of business culture and its values.
The importance of the depiction of business reality in fiction is quite evident. In textbooks and other supplemental studying materials, business is represented regarding its reliance as the source of the income. In opposite to this, fiction provides a deep evaluation of the number of issues regarding moral problems, personal relationships, etc. that businessman has to face in the process of his work. It also provides exact examples of different ethical dilemmas that take place in big organizations. Such literature helps readers to enhance their moral experience and obtain an objective evaluation of the business in general. Yates in his novel represents the road of a man tempted by suddenly revealed business perspectives and made him neglect the romantic nature of his identity in praise of financial stability. The main question raised in the novel is uttered by his wife, “Wouldn’t you still be wasting the prime of your manhood in a completely empty, meaningless …” regarding the opportunity to become involved in big business (Yates 230). Therefore, fiction dealing with the subject of a business depicts the other side of this occupation – its personal consequences and dilemmas that can influence the material profit of the case.
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The story of the novel takes place in 1955. In the context of U.S. history, the 1950s are characterized as the period of post-war economic recovery that tends to change middle-class social positions. The economy has shifted from the production of goods to the creation of new markets for business. It determines the appearance of a new image of a businessman in literature. The protagonist of Yates’s novel, Frank, is involved in the process of mass production of certain goods. However, such routine work does not satisfy him as it does not involve any creativity or originality. Although, after the World War II, the image of business was improved to some extent due to its role in providing jobs for many people, the author continues to depict business and its participants as a part of the dehumanized machine that deprives society of its mental wealth and addicts it to material values (http://www.quebecoislibre.org/13/130215-7.html). Frank works in the Sales Promotion Department of the Knox Business Machines (Yates 79). However, although this position seems to be very serious, it does not require much effort: “the great advantage of a place … you can … turn off your mind … nobody knows the difference” (Yates 93). This statement shows the author’s critical point of view regarding business machines that tend to produce goods for profit but not for social development. That is another reason of the negative treatment of the authors of the theme of business: its ability to deprive people of desire to educate and maintain their level of culture because of the comfortable socio-economic conditions that require no intellectual efforts (Younkins /13/130215-7.html).
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Although the character of Frank Wheeler is not described as an ordinary representative of businessmen, the author implies those traits of character that are considered to be possessed by the successful businessman. The fact that Frank is positioned as the potential successful businessman is maintained by the introduction of the character of Bart Pollok who estimates his professional traits and says that “Let a man of your caliber go to waste for seven years and then lose you to another outfit” (Yates 216). Therefore, such a high evaluation of his character by the successful businessman shows that the author wants to represent Frank as a potentially successful businessman. In general, all businessmen are depicted in the literature as individuals with ambitious and desires (Younkins /13/130215-7.html). Frank is portrayed as the person that initially is gifted: “Various ultimate careers were predicted for him” (Yates 22). His potential was mentioned in his wife’s April attempts to convince him moving to Europe as the place where he could find himself when she retold the words of Bill Croft: “If I had half that guy’s brains I’d quit worrying” (Yates 120). According to these statements, it can be seen that the image of a businessman was represented as a person with outstanding mental abilities and universal professional skills. Another feature implemented in Frank’s character as required for business affairs is his ability to pursue people. It is evident that the gift of persuasion provides the half of business success. Pollok mentioned it in his words “I’ve got a hunch you’re the kind of a fella I could send out to groups of people all over the country… all you’d do is stand up in front of those groups and talk” (Yates 227). The essential trait of a successful businessman is his natural feeling of clients’ needs. In fact, the most successful promotion of the product is the one that is made in an unobtrusive manner and represents the product as the essential need. For this purpose, the advertising massage has to involve something like Yates empowers Frank “man talking” (Yates 218). It represents the natural feeling of the clients’ audiences. As a result, the successful businessman possesses a kind of “personal magnetism” that makes other people believe in every word he says (Yates 219).
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However, as Frank’s character shows, personal business qualities are not enough for a successful career. It requires excitement, constant initiatives, and total devotion to the case. It is proved by the case when Frank fulfilled his work perfectly only after his decision to become not the object but the subject of his life and move to Paris. The realization of personal freedom gives him enough inspiration for a high-quality fulfillment of the task. The same obsession with business perspectives can be pointed out in Pollok’s character when he was talking about the basic principles of business using figurative speech (Yates 208). This provides the image of the business’s influence on people. True businessmen are subordinated to the business culture. There is also an observation that business can make a negative impact on people. Those who feel inner power over other people in terms of persuasion can become indifferent and cool towards the rest of humans feelings that do not concern the business. Yates depicts this change in Frank’s indifference towards April’s emotions after he was proposed high social and economic status. As a result, it determines the wife’s death as the result of a misunderstanding. Therefore, the businessman’s obsession with his idea can be considered as a bad trait too, as it, in some extant, segregates a person from his relationships with other people.
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It can be said that the main reason of business attractiveness for people is the opportunity to earn a lot of money and, at the same time, to obtain a kind of financial freedom. In case with Frank, it can be seen that financial perspectives are the main reason he wants to postpone the Europe trip. The third child is also of great importance, however, it is seen that money remains a crucial issue in the matters of his choice. But it cannot be claimed that business is only about profit. It is also about a certain lifestyle that provides an increase of self-esteem and social respect. The hero obtains a new image of his future in the idea that someone will say: “You and Mrs. Wheeler are so very unlike one’s preconceived idea of American business people” (Yates 221). It is about a particular position that represents the identity as a significant part of the industrial society.
In general, business is depicted as a negative phenomenon due to its introduction of inequality into society. Of course, its main principle is competition as it provides the business participants to improve their professional strategy. However, further competition is impossible without an initial team that can provide this success: “You see what I’m doing? I’m recruiting myself a team” (Yates 226). Even Pollok who is described as a successful businessman realizes the importance of good team work where everybody will be responsible for their sector. The principle of cooperation is necessary for the further competitive strategy.
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The novel Revolutionary Road by Yates implicitly introduced the main traits of the successful businessman alongside with the main principles of business. Representing the business as a matter that totally absorbs a person, he wanted to show the powerful force of a business culture that can replace the initial human values. Although business world is shown in not quite positive perspective due to its negative contribution to the heroes’ personal lives, it still remains attractive by its socio-economic opportunities.