American Pastoral Background

American Pastoral Background

American Pastoral is a novel written by Philip Roth and was published in 1997. It is the twenty-second novel by the author. The story explores the development of American history since the late years of the 1940s to the social commotions of during the 1960s and early years of 1970s. Irrespective of how time flies, the 1960s and 1970s mark an era of fascination in American history. This novel showcases the transformation of America and depicts the truths of politics and public life that are still a reality in the postmodern era.

The story mainly revolves around Seymour ‘Swede’ Irving Levov who is a wealthy businessman and believes he is living the perfect American life with his wife Dawn and daughter Meredith. In every respect, Levov is considered successful — he is an outstanding athlete, owns successful enterprises, and is a committed family man. His main dream is to live a peaceful life in the rural areas of Old Rimrock in New Jersey.

However, with the USA's involvement in the Vietnam War, Seymour’s daughter Meredith becomes politically radicalized and Meredith plants a bomb inside a post office which kills an innocent bystander. Meredith is forced to go into hiding. Meanwhile, Dawn deals with depression as a result of Meredith's behavior and Seymour tries to comfort her and instructs an architect to design for Dawn a dream home. Later at a family party, Seymour discovers that his wife has been having an affair with the architect and plans to leave him. The author at this point also reveals that Seymour had an affair with Meredith's speech therapist, Sheila Salzmann previously. Sheila and her partner had, in fact, kept Meredith in their home after she had set off the bomb and Seymour confronts her about this angrily, asking why they had not turned her in. The book ends with Seymour realizing that all those he loved have betrayed him.

Philip Roth wrote this novel to show how even though a person can believe that they have all the happiness in the world, this is not always the case and their life can be turned upside down easily. Although people have a veneer of respectability, each participates in subversive behavior and can never understand the truth about an individual based on their outward conduct. The conflict and disorder presented throughout the novel resulted in a profound societal and individual transformation that cannot be disregarded. Moreover, the celebration at the end shows that there is no person who can really comprehend other people’s hearts.

Roth also wanted to write the story to display how angry some Americans were with the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War and how this radicalized them politically. The book was received well by critics and fans alike. In fact, The Times commented that American Pastoral was a 'magnificent novel'. The novel also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year and the New Jersey Notable Book Award.

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