American Pastoral

Topics: Watergate scandal, Narrator, Marriage Pages: 5 (1604 words) Published: April 25, 2014

American Pastoral is a Philip Roth novel published in 1997 concerning Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish American businessman and former high school star athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is described as a manifestation of the "indigenous American berserk." The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was included in Time's"All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels."[1] The film rights to it were later optioned by Paramount Pictures. In 2006, it was one of the runners-up in the "What is the Greatest Work of American Fiction in the Last 25 Years?" contest held by the New York Times Book Review.[2] The framing device in American Pastoral is a 45th high school reunion attended by frequent Roth alter egoNathan Zuckerman, who is the narrator. At the reunion, in 1995, Zuckerman meets former classmate Jerry Levov who describes to him the tragic derailment of the life of his recently deceased older brother, Seymour "Swede" Levov, who succumbed to metastatic prostate cancer at age 68. After Seymour's teenage daughter Merry, in 1968, set off a bomb in protest against American involvement in the Vietnam War, killing a bystander, and subsequently went into hiding, Seymour Levov remained traumatized for the rest of his life. The rest of the novel consists of Zuckerman's posthumous recreation of Seymour Levov's life, based on Jerry's revelation, a few newspaper clippings, and Zuckerman's own impressions after two brief run-ins with "the Swede," in 1985 and shortly before his death. In these encounters, which take place early in the novel, Zuckerman learns that Seymour has remarried and has three young sons, but Seymour's daughter Merry is never mentioned. In Zuckerman's reimagining of Seymour's life, this second marriage has no part; it ends in 1973 with Watergate unraveling on TV while the previous lives of the protagonists completely disintegrate.


Seymour Irving Levov is born and raised in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey, in 1927 as the son of a successful Jewish American glove manufacturer, Lou Levov. Called "the Swede" because of his anomalous blond hair, blue eyes and Nordic good looks, Seymour is a star athlete in three sports atWeequahic High School, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II, and the narrator Nathan Zuckerman's idol and hero. Zuckerman and Seymour's younger brother, Jerry—who grows into a curmudgeonly, irascible heart surgeon with little empathy for the Swede—are schoolmates and close friends. The Swede eventually takes over his father's glove factory, Newark Maid, and marries Dawn Dwyer, an Irish Catholic winner of Miss New Jersey from nearby Elizabeth, whom he met at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey. Seymour establishes what he believes to be a perfect American life with a beloved family, a satisfying business career, and a beautiful old home in rural Old Rimrock, New Jersey. Yet, as the Vietnam War and racial unrest wrack the country and destroy inner-city Newark, Seymour's precocious teenage daughter Meredith ("Merry"), beset by an emotionally debilitating stutter and outraged at the United States' conduct in Vietnam, becomes more radical in her beliefs. In February 1968, at age 16, Merry commits an act of political terrorism. In protest against the Vietnam War and the "system," she plants a bomb in the Old Rimrock post office and the resulting explosion kills a bystander. In this singular act, Seymour is cast out of the seemingly perfect life he has built and thrown instead into a world of chaos and dysfunction. Like a number of real-life members of the Weather Underground, Seymour's daughter goes permanently into hiding. In Zuckerman's narration, a reunion of father and daughter takes place five years later, in 1973, in the squalor of Newark's ruined inner city, where a disheveled Merry,...
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