In his brilliant novel, “American Pastoral”, the author, Phillip Roth takes us upon an extended journey into the culture of American Jews, whose search for the American dream has brought wealth and success in equal measure with heartache and pain. The story in the novel focuses on two generations of Levovs, descended from immigrant Jews, who are living the American dream, starting with a successful custom glove manufacturing business in Newark, New Jersey. Jews in Newark, especially the wealthier ones, are leaving their past behind and striving toward becoming truly Americanized. Swede's grandfather had come from the old country and became a manufacturer of ladies' gloves in a neighborhood of mixed immigrants starting various businesses. Lou Levov, Swede's father, worked in the family tannery and learned everything about making gloves, from the slaughter of animals to the dyeing of skins. After starting a small alligator purse company, the family went bankrupt from the Depression, and Lou started over with Newark Maid Leather ware. Lou Levov has turned this small business into a thriving concern, with drive and determination. Newark Maid now has a second factory in Puerto Rico. Roth examines the disappointments and fears of the 1960s, and the distressing effects of a country divided over the Vietnam War.
At the beginning of the novel, the author tells about Swede Levov who is a magical figure in the Jewish neighborhood of Weequahic in Newark, New Jersey. He is a handsome and gifted athlete, admired in his community and confident of his future and his success. Adored for his record-breaking performances, the unfriendly Swede helps the Jews forget about the war and makes them feel a sense of belonging as Americans. Roth, as Zuckerman also remembers his encounters with the great Swede Levov. One learns from his meeting later in life with Swede all the facts of Swede's life-Jerry becoming a doctor, his father's strong and forceful ways, the ups and downs of the glove business in New Jersey and other information that tells one about Swede's life, as told to Nathan. He becomes engaged and marries an Irish Miss New Jersey, Dawn Dwyer which is nixed by his father. Swede finally inherits his father's thriving glove making business after a stint in the Marines, having learned a lot about gloving making processes from every small detail. He buys the beautiful old stone house of his dreams where he and Dawn raise a daughter named Merry, who has a severe stuttering problem. Dawn creates a cattle ranch business, which she loves, and their affluent lives are as perfect as they can get. However, when Merry reaches adolescence they begin to see signs of trouble. When she is eleven years old, she forces her father to give her a romantic kiss. She goes through a stage of being interested in Catholicism, and then obsessing about Audrey Hepburn. But as the Vietnam War rages on, Merry becomes hostile and militant, turning her anger on America, whose values she has come to despise. Her thinking becomes more and more radical and eventually at sixteen, she plants a bomb in the small village store that houses a postal station. The bomb kills a local doctor, and Merry goes underground, living as a fugitive for the rest of her life.
After the bombing, Merry disappears and Swede and Dawn handle their grief and loss in different ways. Throughout the novel, Swede is examining his memories, searching for his own culpability in his daughter's illness, while pretending that nothing has changed. Rita Cohen, a mysterious messenger for Merry, surreptitiously meets with the worried, anguished Swede at his glove factory and torments him, taunting him about Merry's hatred for him and denigrating the way Merry has been raised. Swede, knowing she is somehow connected with Merry, goes along with her cover, and explains everything about glove making to her. Detailing every small step to Rita, from beginning to end of the process, Swede is obviously reviewing it all in his own mind and enjoying having some brief time off from thinking about the bombing and, perhaps, too, trying to justify his business to Rita. In a strange way he seems to feel kindly toward her, simply knowing she is close to Merry.
According to Rita, Merry was never good enough for Dawn, and never lived up to the Miss New Jersey's expectations as a daughter. Dawn hated hearing Merry stutter, but it may not have been as much out of compassion as out of embarrassment that she tried to make her stop stuttering, put her in ballet lessons, and tried to mold her into something she wasn't. Swede does not call the FBI, but complies with Rita's demand to bring money to her in New York. Rita taunts him sexually and tells him he can see Merry if he has sex with her. Rita is trying to give him a taste of reality by lewdly inviting him to have sex with her, but she is in an altered state herself. She wants to drive Swede off center by having sex, and implies to him that she has had sex with his daughter. Swede calls her a travesty of a woman and wants to hurt her, but he restrains himself and leaves quickly, calling the FBI, who arrives too late.
Dawn, who never knows about Rita, is hospitalized several times for depression, and finally decides to make a new life for herself. She has been in and out of a suicidal condition for five years, blaming the Miss New Jersey pageant and blaming Swede. He has been indulging her every little desire trying to keep her happy, but she says she married him only to feel normal. He recalls the exciting time when she became Miss New Jersey and was in the running for Miss America, an overly stimulating event that she was told she would win. Dawn has gone to Geneva, Switzerland for a facelift with Dr. LaPlante. A year after Merry disappeared, Swede had sold Dawn’s entire cattle ranch operation, and she is now designing a new home.
Swede's wonderful life that turned into a nightmare is now a full-blown horror story. The reader can feel sympathy for him because he just cannot see, even now, how his perfect, liberal vision of how things should be is what actually destroyed Merry and his family. Merry has turned into a despicable, sick psychopath and, although he tries to blame himself, he is totally confused at how she could have come from such a good, rich background and turn out this way. It's true that Swede never did anything too wrong in raising Merry, but what he did not realize is that having everything so perfectly right and accommodating tipped her the exact opposite direction and made her reject everything he ever stood for or believed in. Although Merry is clearly mentally ill, she is also very lucid, and her stutter has gone. She has studied all the famous revolutionary thinkers and forced herself to experience all the opposites of the heavenly childhood she left behind, including her sexuality.
In Swede's mind, she is ruined. He realizes that Merry has destroyed herself, and is in psychosis. When he pulls the nylon stocking from her face and demands that she speak, she is grotesque; he smells her wasted condition and sees she has a missing tooth and then vomits in her face. He retreats to his empty glove factory. Swede cannot bear that Merry has been raped, and tries to focus on revenge against her rapists. In her mind, she is heading toward perfection. Swede's feelings and confusion are very affected as he reminisces the past in his mind, trying to figure out how his daughter ended up being a murderer and a derelict. This is the far extreme of the Vietnam era backlash that took place with young Americans, and it effectively symbolizes the huge break between the "establishment" and the counter culture. Swede decides to call his brother, Jerry, who tells him to go back and get Merry, no matter what. Jerry scolds him for acceding to her, and acceding to everything in his life, attacking his moderation and his norms. He points out that Merry has been fighting against Swede's facade and his idealistic, false image of life, and shouts at him, trying to bring him to a sense of reality about the world. He tells him now he has the real America through his daughter. He invites Swede to "bail out" on Merry, and offers to go get her himself.
Swede cannot take the brutality of the world, or the brutality of his brother, who calls him a gentle giant. After five years, Swede finds Merry in Newark, living in an insane state of mind. She has decided she is a Jain, and has renounced the harming any living molecule, which includes those involved in washing and eating. However, her stutter is gone. Swede goes home in shock and horror from his visit with her, only to have to persevere through a surreal dinner party in which everyone appears transparent, shallow and not the way they seemed. Swede finds his wife making love with the neighbor they both dislike, and realizes that she has left everything about her pain behind, while he is still right in the thick of his own, and now even more so.
Swede now understands Dawn's need for a facelift and her need to build the new house. Although Sheila had convinced Swede to go back to Dawn and had ended their affair, Swede knows that Dawn and Bill Orcutt are going to get rid of their spouses and live in the new house. He sees that they are predators and that outlaws are everywhere. Swede can only think about how ugly he is and the snide remarks Dawn has made about him, his perfect manners, and his facade of civilized behavior. He tells Orcutt he is sure "he" will be very happy in the new house, which Orcutt takes as a slip of the tongue. Swede knows Dawn must rid herself of the stain of Merry and the bomb, and put on a new crown. He recalls his father's objections to their marriage, saying their children will be neither Catholic nor Jew. He recalls how Dawn was not afraid of his father, and put up with his criticism, compromising her truths for his sake. Lou often blamed Merry's behavior on her Catholic baptism at the hands of Dawn's mother. Swede remembers Merry screaming consistently and inconsolably as a baby. He remembers his father's detailed interview of Dawn about religion before they were married, and her strength. He had thought that most of life was order and only a little of it disorder, but he now sees the opposite.
Swede realizes that people are not products of their parents, but products of their society. Hearing his father scream, he is sure Merry has come in the back door and told them everything and that his dad has died of a heart attack. In that scenario, he has imagined Merry walking home, identifying flowers and plants. However, Jessie Orcutt has only jabbed his father with a fork, barely missing his eye, because he was coaxing her to eat. Marcia, whom Swede thinks is enjoying the spreading chaos, laughs. His life and world have finally and completely dissolved, and he now realizes that disorder and chaos may be more powerful than order and harmony.
List of Characters
The main character, Swede is the nickname given to Seymour Levov because of his fair complexion and blond hair. He is the principal character in the novel. During his years at Weequahic High School, the handsome Jewish Swede was a star performer in baseball, basketball, and football. Everyone in the Jewish community idolized him. During the uncertain days of World War II, Swede became a symbol of strength and hope. He was also modest, polite, and responsible, with a strong sense of duty. Sailing through life without any apparent difficulty, he seemed in his youth to be perfection itself, Newark's Jewish version of John F. Kennedy. Swede joined the Marines in 1945, too late to see combat, but he became a very effective drill instructor. In 1947, he enrolled in nearby Upsala College, and after graduation he married Dawn Dwyer. Swede went to work for his father at Newark Maid and learned the business from the bottom up. After a while, he took over the company and proved to be an astute businessman. According to his brother, Jerry, Swede was ‘an absolute, unequivocal success. All Swede ever wanted was to live a quiet, unexceptional pastoral life in the countryside of Old Rimrock, devoted to his wife and family. He was always kind and generous, thinking only of the welfare of the family. But trouble comes into his life through his daughter, Merry, who inexplicably turns against him and becomes a terrorist. This change devastates Swede. He is never the same again, although he covers his anguish with his usual calm outward demeanor. He spends the rest of his life trying to understand what went wrong with Merry. His life, formerly so perfect and orderly, becomes a mental hell in which he agonizes over whether it was some failure of his own that caused Merry's rebellion and rejection of everything he stands for. But he never comes to an understanding of why such a thing could happen. According to Jerry, after the bombing he was plagued with shame and uncertainty and pain for the rest of his life.
Dawn Levov is Swede's first wife. As Dawn Dwyer, daughter of Irish immigrants, she was crowned Miss New Jersey in 1949, at the age of twenty-two. She later claimed that winning the beauty title ruined her life. She only entered the contest to win money that would enable her brother to go to college. At the time, she wanted to teach music, and she did not want to marry. But Swede pursued and won her, and for years the marriage of the handsome athlete and the beauty queen looked picture-perfect. Dawn wanted to be more than a wife and mother, so Swede set her up in business raising beef cattle. She worked hard at it, running the business almost by herself and developing an interest in cross-breeding. She showed her strength and determination in other aspects of her life, too. Even at twenty-two, she maintained her poise when she was interrogated by Swede's overbearing father about her Christian faith. Dawn was devastated by Merry's rebellion and her act of terrorism, and for several years, Dawn suffered from suicidal depression. She sold the cattle business in 1969 since it had become too much for her to handle. However, she managed to pull out of her depression after she went to Geneva for a facelift. It later transpires that she is having an affair with Bill Orcutt, with whom she is helping to design a new house, and it becomes clear that she will soon leave Swede and live in the new house with Orcutt.
Merry Levov is the daughter of Swede and Dawn Levov. Intelligent and gifted, she was a normal, affectionate child, with the usual childish enthusiasms. For a while, she kept a scrapbook about Audrey Hepburn and then went through a Catholic phase, keeping religious trinkets in her room. Her only problem was that she stuttered. No amount of treatment by psychiatrist or speech therapist cured the problem. When she was in her mid-teens, a change came over Merry. She became politically aware, developed a violent opposition to the war in Vietnam, and adopted a left-wing philosophy. She developed a hatred for her father, becoming rude and abusive towards him despite his patient attempts to reason with her. When Merry was sixteen, she planted a bomb that destroyed the post office in Old Rimrock, killing a doctor there. No one could explain why she did it. A newspaper article at the time said that her teachers regarded her as “a multi-talented child, an excellent student and somebody who never challenged authority,” although others remembered her “stubborn streak.” Merry then went into hiding, depending on the help of the underground antiwar network. She washed dishes in an old people's home in Indianapolis and then lived in Portland, Oregon, where she developed expertise in assembling bombs. She planted bombs that killed three more people. She moved to Idaho and then to Miami, Florida, where she planned to go to Cuba. After almost being caught by the FBI in Miami, she went to live with a blind woman and took care of her until she died of cancer. She studied religion in libraries and became a Jain. Then she moved back to Newark to work in a dog and cat hospital, living in a tiny, dirty room in a decrepit old house, where she met her father again for the first time in five years. He found that she had adopted an extreme form of renunciation, a position that espouses reverence for all life. She did not wash because she did not want, as she put it, to harm the water, and she did not walk about after dark for fear of crushing tiny creatures beneath her feet. While Jerry Levov loathes Merry and calls her a “monster,” Swede still deeply cares for her. It appears that he may have gone on visiting Merry regularly until she died in her forties, in about 1993.
Lou Levov is the Swede's father, a second-generation Jewish immigrant. Physically, he is a small man, but he has a strong character with a firm sense of right and wrong. He left school at fourteen to help support the family of nine by working in a tannery. He later founded Newark Maid Leather ware, a business manufacturing ladies' gloves. He worked prodigiously hard to build the business, and he eventually became rich. Proud of what he had achieved, he handed over the business to the Swede. After the riots in Newark in 1967, he urged Swede to move the business from New Jersey. Lou Levov is a man of strong views who expresses himself forcefully. He spends much of his life “in a transitional state between compassion and antagonism, between comprehension and blindness, between gentle intimacy and violent irritation.” In the 1970s, he rails passionately against President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, and he is also indignant about the permissiveness of American culture, wondering where it will all end.
Rita Cohen is a young woman who comes to Swede's factory, claiming to be a graduate student needing information about the leather industry in Newark. She is tiny and looks younger than Merry but claims to be twenty-two years old. She is polite and interested as Swede gives her a tour of the factory, but as she is about to leave it becomes apparent that Merry has sent her. After Swede gives her some of Merry's personal belongings, Rita asks him to bring cash to a hotel room. When he arrives, she demands that he have sex with her and also roundly abuses him as a capitalist who exploits his workers. Rita then disappears for five years until Swede receives a letter from her in which she tells him where to find Merry. She claims to love and admire Merry as an “incredible spirit” and writes that she never did anything other than what Merry told her to do. But Merry denies even knowing Rita, which makes Swede feel that Rita is a criminal who tricked him and stole money from him. Who Rita really is and what relationship, if any, she has or has had with Merry is never explained.
Chaos in the Community
First of all, the theme of the novel ‘American Pastoral’ by Philip Roth is chaos in the community. The author firstly focuses on the chaos that happens to Swede’s family. The solid, upstanding life lived by Swede's parent dissolves into total chaos in Swede's life, almost like a chain reaction after Merry bombs the store. In the end, no matter how much effort goes into keeping things orderly and upright, chaos eventually overtakes everything. In other words, within the order lies the potential for chaos and vice versa. The harder Swede tries to be normal, the more intense the chaos becomes. One bomb had the effect of disintegrating his marriage, his mental health, and his way of life. By the time he learns of the second bomb, everything he thought was true and solid has crumbled completely. One can assume that he would have lost his business, as well, if the story had continued. Even the most perfect rose eventually wilts, turns brown, dies, falls to pieces, and loses its fragrance and beauty. This is the way of life, according to Roth, and it is what one should expect, rather than assume idealistically that one can preserve any semblance of perfection. The author states that, “She took his advice and stayed at home, and, after turning their living room into a battlefield, followed by turning Morristown High into a battlefield, she went out one day and blew up the post office, destroying right along with it Dr. Fred Conlon and the village's general store, a small wooden building with a community bulletin board out front and a single old Sunoco pump and the metal pole on which Russ Hamlin – who, with his wife, owned the store and ran the post office. . .” (Roth, 1997, pg 113).
On the other hand, at the time Merry Levov is in high school, Lyndon Johnson was president and the Vietnam War had escalated, in spite of the protests from the American public. The younger generation in America could see the folly of the government's response to the perceived threat of communism. This generation was better educated and more economically stable than their parents' generation. They could see the government getting out of control, and the counter-culture grew stronger in protest against the government's heavy-handed domination and threat to human rights. Demonstrations were taking place on almost every college campus, and many high school campuses. There was mass tension in the air during these times, and someone as intelligent and sensitive as Merry was bound to be caught up in it. The war that was being protested in Vietnam, where entire families were being wiped out and chemicals were being dropped, such as Agent Orange and napalm. When Merry saw the Buddhist monk set himself on fire in protest of what was happening to his country, Merry's compassion became so great that it sparked hatred in her against her own country and everything it stood for. The Vietnam era produced many radicals who felt justified in bombing and destroying in retaliation for the government's actions. Some radicals, like Merry, took their cause to the extreme and were forced to go underground to avoid spending their lives in prison. Besides that, during the war protests of the 1960’s, the ‘Weathermen’ group was a radical political organization that claimed responsibility for numerous bombings. They were an offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In the novel, Merry supposedly became involved in this group and was the mastermind who constructed the bombs. She was with them when one of her bombs killed another three people in Pentagon. This was not a period of time in America that anyone is proud of, and Philip Roth captured the effects it had on the affluent. This is proven in the novel when the author states that, “It’s their daughter! Merry has bombed the Pentagon.” (Roth, 1997, pg 149) and the author also states that she is one the group member who involves in the attack, “The other is unidentified. The other is Rita. The other is Merry. They’ve roped her into this too!” (Roth, 1997, pg 149).
Besides that, chaos also happens to the Swede’s community where some characters that play the main role in the novel somehow acted differently from their first appearances. In the beginning of the novel, the author mentions that the characters behave pleasantly and courteously but at the end of the novel, Roth reveals that they have damaged the name of goodness. For instance, Swede’s daughter, Merry, out of compassion for the Vietnamese who are being killed needlessly, turns on her own country and kills four people in the process. She feels she is right and good, but she turns out to be a ‘monster’ in the sense that she has ruthlessly, brutally killed four Americans. His wife, Dawn, who is the perfect, humble Irish girl, in trying to reconstruct her life, causes her husband untold pain. Rita Cohen, whose self-righteous, idealistic political views are the reason for her radical behavior, is the very face of evil in her dealings with Swede and Merry. Sheila Salzman seems well intentioned when she hides Merry after the bombing, but when Swede confronts her years later, it becomes clear that she was not a particularly good person, and her affair with Swede was more out of curiosity. Marcia Umanoff, whose education should have made her a better person, feeds on the division and hostilities that tear down relationships and political structures. Jerry Levov, a brilliant surgeon who helps and heals people every day, is cruel and abrupt, hurting his brother's feelings at the worst moment of his life. Swede Levov, in his liberal generosity and gentleness toward his daughter, made some horrendous mistakes in raising her that turned her into a sociopath and murderer. America is not what it was when his values were developed, and he now stumbles through with enormous guilt over his daughter, trying to pretend that things are the same as always. It is not that Swede is stupid, but he simply has a blind spot when it comes to life. He has never imagined anything but success, hard work, and the American dream, and the idea that it could all fall apart is unthinkable to him. The author states that, “. . . Hate America? Why, he lived in America the way he lived inside his own skin. All the pleasures of his younger years were American pleasures, all that success and happiness had been American, and . . . For her, being an American was loathing America, but loving America was something he could not let go of any more than he could have let go of loving his father and his mother, any more than he could have let go of his decency.” (Roth, 1997, pg 213). In short, I could say that they actually have damaged their sense of goodness to the other community.
Determination in Life
The second theme I find from the novel is the determination in life. The theme is centered on the Swede’s generation which is the immigrant Jews who are living in America. To be able to come to a country, work hard and see the result of one’s work turn into a thriving business was the dream that people of that generation held onto fiercely. For a Jewish family to blend into the American culture and be able to own all the trappings of capitalism, was Lou's idea of the America Dream. For instance, Lou Levov is an example of a liberal, kind Jewish man who lived the American dream. He worked hard to build his business, raising himself up from poverty to wealth. He is nice old man, but feels that people are not exactly right unless they are Jewish. He is blustery at times, and tends to dominate conversations. He writes hundreds of letters to politicians to express his views and feels his letters should be published someday. When Swede wanted to marry Dawn, he grilled Dawn about the mixed marriage and made her agree to certain terms regarding the raising of their children. He is a good, kind ‘old-school’ man, who has a compassionate side and always has an opinion. Lou tried to be supportive of Merry when she went into her stage of political radicalism, but attempted to help her tone it down, knowing that she was being extreme. In the end of the story, he is trying to help the extremely drunk Jessie Orcutt by trying to feed her a piece of pie, and she stabs his face with a fork. With the Vietnam War and Watergate, Lou is very disappointed in how things have changed in this country and wants to cling to the old dreams and values that solidified after World War II. In the novel, Roth states that “At one point I interrupted and, trying not to appear in any way desperate, asked about the business, what it was like these days running a factory in Newark. . . His family had kept their operation going in Newark for quite a long time; out of duty to long-standing employees, most of whom were black, the Swede had hung on for some six years after the ’67 riots, held on in the face of industry-wide economic realities and his father’s imprecations as long as he possibly could, but when he was unable to stop the erosion of the workmanship, which had deteriorated steadily since the riots, he’d given up, managing to get out more or less unharmed by city’s collapse.”(Roth, 1997, pg 23-24).
Besides that Lou’s values were firmly instilled in Swede's mind, and Swede’s life proceeded down the same path. Although there was some feeling of being outsiders on the part of the Jewish Americans, or a sense that they were lower on the social strata than other Americans, they become wealthy doctors and business people and form their own upper class. From the novel, we know that Jews in Newark, especially the wealthier ones, are leaving their past behind and striving toward becoming truly American. Swede's grandfather had come from the old country and became a manufacturer of ladies' gloves in a neighborhood of mixed immigrants starting various businesses. Lou Levov worked in the family tannery and learned everything about making gloves, from the slaughter of animals to the dyeing of skins. After starting a small alligator purse company, the family went bankrupt during the Depression, and Lou had started over again with Newark Maid Leather ware. Lou Levov has turned this small business into a thriving concern, with drive and determination. Newark Maid now has a second factory in Puerto Rico. The author states that, “Newark Maid manufacture now exclusively in Puerto Rico. For a while, after leaving Newark, he’d contracted with Communist government in Czechoslovakia and divided the work between his own factory in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and a Czech glove factory in Brno.”(Roth, 1997, pg 26). We could see how they work hard and determine to augment their status in the country although they are Jews and even not the Americans. When the author meets Swede at a dinner, he talks about the past and how Newark has gone downhill; full of car thieves and criminals; he talks about how glove making is now being done by unskilled laborers. They do not easily give up even though at that time their company went bankrupt. Besides that, we know that from what is stated in the novel that, “Well fortunately for my father, he didn’t have to. Jerry was the-son-the-doctor. He couldn’t have been prouder than he was of Jerry.” “Jerry’s a physician?” “In Miami. Cardiac surgeon. Million bucks a year.” (Roth, 1997, pg 36). Lou Levov in his heyday also made enough contacts and sold enough hand-made gloves that he was able to grow his glove-making business into a large factory in Newark. When Newark was a thriving town, his business was his pride and joy, and he made the best gloves. We could see from the novel, the author states that “The way it fell out, my father was a chiropodist whose office was for years our living room and. . . His own father–Swede Levov’s grandfather–had come to Newark from the old country in the 1890s and found work, fleshing sheepskins fresh from the lime vat, the lone Jew alongside the roughest of Newark’s Slav, Irish, and Italian immigrants in the Nuttman Street tannery of the patent-leather tycoon T.P. Howell, then, the city’s oldest and biggest industry, the tanning manufacturer of leather goods.” (Roth, 1997, pg 11).
Last but not least, Roth tries to show the determination of Swede to protect his daughter, Merry Levov from involving herself in criminal. As we could see in the chapter 3 of the novel, Nathan begins to imagine Swede, he sees him with his daughter Merry, who is now eleven, at a seaside cottage. Merry and Swede are very close, and both are ‘sun-drunk’, when Merry stutters a request that her father kiss her the way he kisses her mother. Swede has always been more patient and accepting of Merry's stutter and, out of sympathy, innocence, and love for her, he almost accidentally, does kiss her on the mouth, and immediately afterward, withdraws from her dramatically so that she can feel safe it will never happen again. But this withdrawal may have been the wound that ruined her; Swede realizes now that everything he does, no matter how well, will make a difference, and not necessarily a good one. His healthy self-image turns to self-examination and a sense that life is out of control. But, as a teen, Merry becomes slovenly, stops brushing her teeth, and then grows fat, careless, and foul-mouthed, especially about the war. Her personality becomes crude and aggressive. Merry begins meeting with political people in New York and takes on a secret life, defying her parents' demand that she not spend the night in New York with strangers, but that she stay with their friends, the Umanoffs. Thoroughly disobedient, Merry disrespects her family's privileged lifestyle; she feels they are trying to lock her into their bourgeois lifestyle, and she is an impossible child to discipline. Swede, a patient father and good listener, is worried about her and tries to find another way to change back her radical behaviors and her fight on the Vietnam War. He encourages Merry to work against the war in their small hometown of Rimrock, New Jersey and in her high school. It is proven in the novel when the author states that, “‘You can be as active in the antiwar movement as you like here in Morristown and here in Old Rimrock. . .” (Roth, 1997, pg 112). Finally, she obeys Swede’s advice not going to New York, she later goes to bomb a local post office killing a local doctor and destroying the small general store. Roth states in the novel that, “. . . As far as he knew, she did not go to the New York again. She took his advice and stayed at home, and, after turning their living room into a battlefield, she went out one day and blew up the post office, destroying right along with it Dr. Fred Conlon and the village’s general store, a small wooden building. . .” (Roth, 1997, pg 113). After that, Merry disappears for a few years and Swede cannot bear that Merry has been raped, and tries to focus on revenge against her rapists. He relives the fire and riots and the time he spent in the factory with Vicky. He still tries his best to bring Merry back although she refuses to do so. Then, he decides to call his brother, Jerry, who tells him to go back and get Merry, no matter what. From the novel, we can see from the conversation between Jerry and Swede.
“Well, sure she did it. Jesus. Who did we think did it? Where is she now, it that room?”
“Yes. It’s awful.”
“Then, go back to the room and get her.”
“I can’t. She won’t let me. She wants me to leave her alone.”
“Fuck what she wants. Get back in your fucking car and get over there and drag her out of that fucking room by hair. . .” (Roth, 1997, pg 273).
We can see from here, how he is struggling to save his daughter from the criminal cases even though sometime he doesn’t afford to do so.
Protagonist – Seymour Swede
In my view, I think that the protagonist in this novel is Seymour Swede Levov, the main character. He is the hero of his small Jewish community. He is tall, blond, and a superlative athlete with Gentile features, who makes his immigrant relatives and friends in love with him. Idolized for his record-breaking performances, the aloof Swede helps the Jews to forget about the war and all that had gone wrong years before and even makes them feel a sense of belonging as Americans. They are able to make him their champion. The World War II is over, and America is starting over. There is the real possibility of attaining the American Dream if one were to work hard enough and be dedicated. Swede is an all-American boy who follows the rules. He is an outstanding student who graduates from high school and goes into the Marines to serve his country. From the novel, the author tells us “The day after graduating Weequahic in June ’45, the Swede had joined the Marine Corps, eager to be in on the fighting that ended the war.” (Roth, 1997, pg 14). Besides that, Swede is said to be a hero in his life which he manages to handle his problematic family’s members in a right way. He has an unsatisfied father, unsatisfied wife and a monster daughter named Meery, in spite of his big success at Newark Maid. He raises Merry with kindness and rationality, but she was fat and self-absorbed. She crossed the line and threw a bomb that ruined Seymour's perfect, blessed life. Just like in football, Seymour took a lot of punishment and never caved in. Even though he knows that her daughter is somewhat dangerous because she used to throw a bomb that cause a death, he bravely go to visit his daughter, who was in hiding, for more than twenty years. But one night when Seymour cried and told Jerry his daughter was dead, Jerry told him it was a good thing if it were true, that Merry was a freak of nature and out of bounds. Jerry feels Seymour's lack of rage and passive response to life is what killed him. He took abuse from his father as he learned the business; no house was ever good enough for his socially-conscious wife, so Swede set her up in the cattle business, and took her to Switzerland for a facelift. Roth mentions it in the novel, “No house they lived in was right, no amount of money in the bank was enough. He set her up in the cattle business. That didn’t work. He set her up in the nursery tree business. That didn’t work. He took her to Switzerland for the world’s best face-lift.” (Roth, 1997, pg 73). He can manage and control his emotion although he is confronting such a tremendous problem of his family. When Merry needs speech and psychiatric therapy for years for her stuttering, he pays for it but she then pays her family back by destroying them with a radical bombing of the village post-office and store. Swede actually tries to resolve his family’s problem but he cannot handle those problems because they are very complicated and it has made me consider Swede as the hero of the novel. It is stated in the novel, “The responsibility of the school hero follows him through life. Noblesse obligue. You’re the hero, so then you have to behave in a certain way–there is a prescription for it.” (Roth, 1997, pg 79).
Besides that, he is also a responsible son, husband, and father. When Swede returns from Marines, he marries an Irish Catholic girl named Dawn Dwyer, against his father's wishes. He buys a beautiful old stone house that he had always loved and a large piece of property for his family. He always makes sure that his wife, Dawn, has everything she could possibly want. His wife is the former Miss New Jersey, beautiful and intelligent, and he helps her start her own cattle ranch. Other than that, he is a good son, loves his parents, loves his wife, and loves his daughter with fervor. He learns his father's business from the bottom up, putting everything he has into making it prosperous. He becomes wealthy himself. Even though he busies managing the business, he does not forget his responsibilities as a husband and father and even he is very concerned to his family’s welfare. He has one daughter, Meredith, a difficult child, who develops a debilitating stutter. He also always makes sure his daughter has the best care, speech therapy, ballet lessons, and a life in the country that most people dream of for their children. He willingly does all these because she has a very serious stutter. The author mentions in the novel about Merry’s serious stutter for certain alphabets like, “B-b-but you drive me c-c-c-crazy, this kind of sensible parent, trying to be understanding! I don’t want to be understood-I want to be f-f-f-free!” (Roth, 1997, pg 107). Apart from that, Swede questions and blames himself for Merry's decision to bomb a local grocery store that contained a postal station in protest of the Vietnam War when she is only sixteen years old. A doctor is killed in the bombing, and Merry goes underground. From that moment on, Swede's perfectly structured life begins to come apart at the seams. He is an endearing character who lives in a fantasy, and who has never expected nor cultivated chaos or disorder. But his life turns into full blown chaos as he learns Merry has killed three more people, her friend, Rita Cohen taunts and torments him, and Merry finally becomes a Jain, depriving herself of food, water and life, in general, in the search for a perfected soul. Feeling responsible, he spends years searching his past behavior for the cause of Merry’s problems. The author states that, “I am thinking of the Swede’s great fall and of how he must have imagined that it was founded on some failure of his own responsibility. There is where it must begin. It doesn’t matter if he was the cause of anything. He makes himself responsible anyway. He has been doing that all his life, making himself unnaturally responsible, keeping under controllable, giving his all to keep his world together. Yes, the cause of the disaster has for him to be a transgression.” (Roth, 1997, pg 88-89)
Last but not least, Swede is a calm and patient character. A year after Merry disappears, he had sold Dawn’s entire cattle ranch operation, and Dawn is now designing a new house. She hires a clever and polished architect named Bill Orcutt to design his new house. She tells Bill that she always hated the house she and Swede owned; owning the ornate stone house was his childhood dream, and he is shocked. Memories of Merry permeate the house, so Swede agrees to build the new house. The architect, Bill is the kind of man one would picture wearing an ascot and smoking a pipe and he has never had to worry about money, and he is very proud of his family’s lineage, which goes back to the Revolutionary War. He is an arrogant man who tries to be down to earth and pretend to fit in, but his opinion of himself is very high. He has some respect for Swede Levov, whom he learns was venerated as a football player, and who takes him down hard at one of the community football games. During Levov’s dinner party on the evening of the day that Swede has seen Merry, he sees Bill making love to Dawn in the kitchen of their home. Swede finally realizes that Dawn has an affair with his unpleasant neighbor whom they both supposedly disliked; he is still patience and does not take any revenge to him. At the beginning, Bill just helps her designing the new house but eventually she falls in love with him. For example, Swede and Dawn have been to exhibitions to see Bill Orcutt's abstract, non-objective paintings, which Swede does not understand or appreciate. Dawn purchased a painting of rubbed out brown streaks for their wall, to replace the portrait of Merry. Lou Levov thinks the painting isn't finished, but Swede is glad that Dawn wants anything at all. This situation shows that Dawn is interested to Bill. It is true from the novel, Roth states that, "Something in Orcutt's proprietary manner had irritated her at that first meeting, something she found gratingly egotistical in his expansive courtesy, causing her to believe that to this young country squire with the charming manners she was nothing but laughable lace-curtain Irish, a girl who'd somehow got down the knack of aping her betters so as now to come ludicrously barging into his privileged backyard." (Roth, 1997, pg 301). Besides that, he also realizes that the house they are designing is for Bill and Dawn, not for Dawn and him. The irony of Orcutt intervening in his marriage is just another way that the order and logic in Swede's life has disintegrated completely. “His wife had a lover. And that was for the lover that she’d undergone the rigors of a face-lift to woo and win him… and all of it for the sake of somebody else. It was for the sake of somebody else that she was building the house. The two of them were designing the house for each other.” (Roth, 1997, pg 366).
Antagonist – Meredith Levov
In my view, I think that the protagonist in this novel is Merry Levov, the main character’s daughter. An only child, too precocious for her own good, she has every advantage in life. Security, health, love, every advantage imaginable–missing only was the ability to order a hamburger without humiliating herself. Merry was a difficult baby but a normal child until she reaches adolescence. She was a sweet child who wanted to please people, and was a hard worker. She helped her mother with the cattle ranch, and had a strong sense of humor and compassion. But she has a serious stutter problem. The stuttering that Merry battles with impedes her social life, and has an adverse effect on her self-esteem. While her mother is distressed over it, Swede is very patient with her and allows her to finish her sentences, even teasing and playing about it at times. She regularly sees a speech therapist and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist suggests that perhaps her stuttering was her way of making herself special, having two exceptionally good-looking perfectionists for parents. This path of thinking makes it worse. At the suggestion of her therapist, Merry keeps a handwritten stuttering journal to write about how she feels when she stutters and what kinds of situations it is most prevalent in. She went through a stage of being obsessed with Audrey Hepburn, which is not unusual. Merry grows obese and begins to eat obsessively. She stops brushing her teeth and combing her hair and becomes slovenly. She becomes the ‘black ship’ of the family because of her serious stutter because even though she is the daughter of famous and successful athlete and businessman and Miss New Jersey, the stutter problem has made Swede’s family imperfect. Besides that, she begs her father on a summer outing to kiss her the way he kisses Dawn, he eventually gives in even to this request and kisses her. Roth states in the novel that, “Kiss me the way you k-k-kiss umumumother. And in the everyday world, nothing to be done but respectably carry on the huge pretense of living as himself, with all the shame of masquerading as the ideal man.” (Roth, 1997, pg 174). Swede wonders for years if it was that moment that ruined Merry's mental health.
Apart from that, Merry is said to be the protagonist in this novel because her personality becomes crude and aggressive. She becomes obsessed with Audrey Hepburn, and temporarily interested in her grandmother's Catholicism. She takes ballet lessons and is interested in politics at a young age. A bright girl, she sees therapists to try to get to the bottom of her stuttering. One doctor suggests it is easier to stutter than face the high pressure of her perfectionist family. Swede is angry at the doctors for suggesting it is a choice on Merry's part. Mary begins to eat and grows fat, nearly six feet tall, and becomes interested in politics; she stops caring about trying to fix it, and becomes militant about the Vietnam War, denigrating her family's middle class values and making her mother crazy with her rhetoric. Swede feels Merry will outgrow this. She watches the immolation of Buddhist monks on the television who were protesting the Vietnam War, and she begins to educate herself about the politics involved in the war, becoming more and more hostile toward the US government. Merry begins to travel to New York to visit radicals who are part of the movement against the war. Merry begins meeting with political people in New York and takes on a secret life, defying her parents demand that she not spend the night in New York with strangers, but that she stay with their friends, the Umanoffs. It is shown in the novel, “. . . ‘You’re involved with political people in New York.’ ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything is political. Brushing your teeth is political.’ ‘You’re involved with people who are against the war in Vietnam. Isn’t that who you go to see? Yes or no?’ ‘They’re people, yes. . .’” (Roth, 1997, pg 104). When her father puts a stop to these trips and tells her that she could just as effectively protest the war at home in Rimrock, New Jersey, she proceeds to bomb the local grocery store because it houses a postal station. In the explosion, a local doctor who was mailing his bills is killed. Roth mention in his novel that, “. . . As far as he knew, she did not go to the New York again. She took his advice and stayed at home, and, after turning their living room into a battlefield, she went out one day and blew up the post office, destroying right along with it Dr. Fred Conlon and the village’s general store, a small wooden building. . .” (Roth, 1997, pg 113). Then, Merry immediately goes into hiding. The reader learns later in the story that after traveling about the country, hiding in different disguises, she has been raped twice and has also been with radicals in Oregon. She has bombed another building and killed three more people.
Last but not least, Merry rejects her family's values, their lifestyle and their money, which seem to her to be part of the bigger problem. Even though her family own a very glorious business and their life look like almost perfect, she does not accept all of that. Thoroughly disobedient, Merry disrespects her family's privileged lifestyle; she feels they are trying to lock her into their bourgeois lifestyle, and she is an impossible child to discipline. Although Merry goes through what might seem to be normal stages of childhood, she can never be what she really wants since she feels so impaired by her stutter. Her father is ever patient with her and supportive of her, while her mother is impatient and takes up her own interests, choosing not to be so focused on her daughter. Merry's psychiatrist suggests a jealous hatred toward her mother might be to blame for her stutter. From her interactions with her mother, who is beautiful while Merry is fat, there may be something to that idea. In any case, Merry seems vindictive about something. According to Rita, Merry hates him and feels he should be shot for what he pays the workers in other countries to work in his factories. It is proved by a conversation between Swede and Rita, “‘But if she wants these things . . . why else would she want these things? ‘Because they’re hers.’ ‘Not to hear her tell it.’ ‘I can’t believe that.’ ‘She hates you.’ ‘Does she?’ he asked lightly. ‘She thinks you ought to be shot.’ ‘Yes, that too?’ ‘What do you pay the workers in your factory in Ponce, Puerto Rico?’ . . .” (Roth, 1997, pg 133). She also tells him that Merry never wants to see him or Dawn again, and that her life with them, their love and their activities were all fakes. Swede feels that the hateful lunatic, Rita, must be holding Mary under a spell. Besides the Swede’s constant self-blame, there is nothing to suggest where or why or how Merry changed so drastically and so many times. By the end of the book, we know that she has killed four people, she has been raped, she has lived in Miami and run from the FBI and washed dishes in Oregon, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland– she has slept in a woman’s coat and begged for money and studied religion and became a Jain. She has absolutely destroyed her father with this changes–not only because after each one he blames himself, but because he is torn apart by the realization that he has no idea who his daughter is. Merry Levov was actually a sweet, intelligent, sarcastic stuttering little girl, a beautiful girl, a girl with the potential, really, to be anything– and she turned into a slovenly, radical bomber before switching to a religion so centered on nonviolence that she carries a broom to sweep the microorganisms on the floor away from her feet. She is the American bizarre. She is the American potential–for both what we consider good and successful and what absolutely horrifies us. It's true that Swede never did anything too wrong in raising Merry, but what he did not realize is that having everything so perfectly right and accommodating tipped her the exact opposite direction and made her reject everything he ever stood for or believed in. Roth states in the novel that, “‘I am telling you it is so. Your daughter is divine. You cannot be in the presence of such suffering without succumbing to its holy power. You don't know what a nobody I was before I met Merry. I was headed for oblivion. . . She must be allowed to fulfill her destiny. We can only stand as witnesses to the anguish that sanctifies her. –The Disciple Who Calls Herself ‘Rita Cohen’.” (Roth, 1997, pg 176). In other situation, the author also mentions how she rejects her family’s values, and their lifestyles. Even, she practices her own lifestyles. “She wore the veil to do no harm to the microscopic organisms that dwell in the air we breathe. She did not bathe because she revered all life, including the vermin. She did not wash, she said, so as 'to do no harm to the water.' She did not walk about after dark, even in her own room, for fear of crushing some living object beneath her feet. There are souls, she explained, imprisoned in every form of matter; the lower the form of life, the greater is the pain to the soul imprisoned there. The only way ever to become free of matter and to arrive at what she described as 'self-sufficient bliss for all eternity' was to become what she reverentially called 'a perfected soul.' One achieves this perfection only through the rigors of asceticism and self-denial and through the doctrine of ahimsa or nonviolence." (Roth, 1997, pg 232).
In my view after reading the novel “American Pastoral” by Phillip Roth, I could tell that I really like the novel for a few reasons. First of all, I like this novel because I am interested with the contents of the novel when I discover that nothing is as it seems.Philip Roth does not want his reader to take anything for granted, or to accept anything at face value. Every single character in this story is either not what they seemed. Merry, a bright, happy little girl turns into a violent, insane murderer. Dawn, the perfect, beautiful wife who wants to raise cattle and be seen as more than just a pretty face ends up cheating on Swede with a man who is egotistical and shallow. Sheila Salzman, who even went as far as having an affair with Swede after the bombing, hid Swede's daughter without telling him. When confronted about this, she remains cold and calm, and it is clear the affair was meaningless to her. Marcia Umanoff, who Swede considered a friend of the family, turns out to be someone who enjoys conflict and causing pain. Jessie Orcutt, an heiress who once was a vibrant, busy mother turns out to be a slovenly, depressed alcoholic. Even the politically astute, ranting old Lou Levov has become irrelevant after having been such a strong, positive influence in Swede's life. Finally, Swede, who has been steady and stoic, calm and organized all his life, is unraveled by the events in his life and ultimately becomes mentally ill.
Apart from that, I like this novel because of its style of point of view. The narrator writes from an omnipotent viewpoint, and allows one to see inside the thinking and feelings of his characters. Using the character of Nathan Zuckerman as the author of the story, he distances himself from it as the creator of the story. Nathan's close relationship with the community makes the story seem more realistic and plausible. Nathan remembers Swede Levov as his hero, a celebrity of sorts, from whom he craved even the slightest acknowledgment. But once Nathan decides to pursue the story of Swede Levov, the reader is often in the deepest parts of Swede Levov's mind, as he remembers Merry's childhood and his early days with Dawn. Toward the end, one is still seeing through Swede's eyes, but his thinking is no longer necessarily rational, the damage to his family having taken its toll on his logic. Since the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, is only briefly told Swede's story by Jerry Levov, one can only assume that Nathan has put this story together from his vivid imagination and his ability to analyze how it was that The Swede always appeared so perfect and steady. As a reader, we can see from the novel that Swede deconstruct his life and begin to understand that there is more disorder in the world than order, an idea that shatters his lifelong mindset with disillusion and pain.
Besides that, I really love to read the novel because I like the setting in the novel. Although Swede and his family grew up in Newark, New Jersey, but most of the story takes place in Old Rimrock, where Swede has purchased a beautiful old stone house for his wife and his children that he has always coveted. The house sits on a large piece of property, and Dawn develops a cattle ranch near the house. The small town of Old Rimrock is where the little grocery store and postal station are bombed by Merry. It is an affluent area and Swede's neighbors are people like Bill Orcutt, a wealthy architect from an old family. Old Rimrock has a pastoral quality and is its estates are free from city noise, riffraff, and other realities of city life. Other than that, the author gives several detailed tours through the process of glove making, from the stench of the tanneries to the enclosed glass cubicle where Swede sits and is able to see the work being done out on the factory floor. The neighborhood where the factory is located has turned into a black ghetto and is a dangerous neighborhood where riots have taken place, and is now full of derelicts and abandoned buildings. Roth also exposes the reader to experience the deterioration of Newark with Swede as he goes to see Merry, who is living in a squalid small apartment in New Jersey, practicing Jainism. The buildings have been stripped of every cornice, molding pipes--anything that can be sold as architectural salvage. Garbage lines the streets, as well as broken old furniture and all kinds of debris. The stench of urine permeates the building Merry lives in, and derelicts live under the freeway overpass. Swede's glove factory is still in this neighborhood because he is afraid if he shuts it down, Merry will be able to accuse him of taking jobs from the black people who work there.
As a reader of the novel, “American Pastoral”, I strongly suggest and recommend all of you read the novel cover to cover and buy one if necessary if you really want to improve your English. The use of language that the author present in this novel makes the novel looks like as if it is perfect. We can see from this novel, Philip Roth's prose flows voluptuously from one scene to the next, from the present moment to the past and places in between. His vocabulary is extensive and, at times, includes Hebrew expressions as well as a bit of French. He is an all-American writer, with a gift for description and color. A good example is Lou Levov's dissertation at the dinner party in chapter eight. His Jewish inflections, his habit of dominating a conversation with details of his own memories, being both argumentative and compassionate at the same time, is a work of art by Roth. Roth also does some unexpected things, such as revealing the pre-marital discussion between Lou Levov and Dawn in the format of a script. He captures the American-Jewish dialect and culture vividly, and has an uncanny grasp of the collective attitudes and viewpoints of those from the old school, as well as the shift in American society that took place during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Roth does not judge either way about the old days or the new days, but allows the reader to decide what has happened to our culture, and the possible reasons for the changes.
While I read the novel, I try to analyze the contents of the novel by observing its structures. This story is told in very nine very lengthy chapters of 423 pages. Although Roth's chapters are somewhat chronological in terms of plot, in each one time is interwoven-one relives the past, returns to the present, and so on. At the beginning of the novel, the author, Roth as Nathan Zuckerman, begins this story speaking in first person, remembering his encounters with the great Swede Levov. Zuckerman packs a bundle of ideas and floats hundreds of images into a chapter that is really simply about his enigmatic childhood hero. The sparse notation of Swede's wife's suicide lets the reader know that, although Nathan has no idea of what truly took place in Swede's life, the reader will probably find out. The entire chapter, in fact, sets the foundation for the story of Swede Levov. The next chapter, he carries very detailed and vivid memories of his own life. But the point of this chapter comes in the very last line when the most important person arrives at the reunion. In every chapter, Swede Levov recalls some incident of his past that helps fill a gap in the story, or helps explain some aspect of his life that adds to the culmination of horror that he is living through in the present.
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