American Pastoral Themes

American Pastoral Themes


Seymour is betrayed by the people closest to him in his life. First his daughter is emotionally unstable. Despite insisting that she is fine, she snaps one day and sets off a bomb that kills somebody. Similarly, his wife professes her love for him. She says that she is committed to their marriage, but she is unhappy after Merry leaves. She has an affair and leaves Seymour. Finally, his own mistress never sums up the courage to commit to him.


Seymour is supposed to be leading the ideal country life, but things don't work out that way in reality. His daughter commits an act of treason and runs away from home. His wife cheats on him and leaves him.His brother despises him. Despite being located in just the right place and time to set up a beautifully simple life, Seymour can't hold it all together. His business fails. In desperation he has an affair with his daughter's former speech therapist. They don't last long. Though she promises to commit to him, the woman flakes in the end. At last, Seymour is all alone. Every person who put on a false front revealed their true colors in the end. He is forced to rework his beliefs about human nature in order to make sense of his overwhelming sense of loneliness.

Political Unrest

A dominant theme of the book is political unrest. The events of Seymour's life mostly occur during the 1960s and '70s. During that time America faced internal chaos. The Vietnam War polarized people, sparking an almost militant rebellion. The racial tensions also erupted into frequent spates of violence in the cities. When people turned on the TV, they were greeted with fear and confusion. This national disquiet parallels Seymour's personal turmoil as he tries to make sense of disappointment, loneliness, and despair.


Each of the characters in Seymour's life, and Seymour himself, all have defining rebellious moments. For whatever reason, they each make a series of choices which changes their life forever. Merry sets of the post office bomb, sending her life in a trajectory of running from police and keeping company with radical people opposed to the war. Fed up with Seymour's neediness and gloom, Dawn engages in an affair. She ends up leaving her husband for this other man. After all the others rebel, Seymour is forced to make some changes of his own. He chooses to alter his worldview to better interpret the dissonant actions of the people he had cared about in contrast to the things they professed to believe.

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