American Pastoral

Introduction

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 ego Nathan 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.


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