1. What is the effect of being told the story through Zuckerman?
Are we led to believe aspects of the story are a projection of
Zuckerman''s fantasies about a character who caught his
2. Zuckerman sees the Swede''s life as an illustration of the
Jewish "desire to go the limit in America with your rights, forming
yourself as an ideal person who gets rid of the traditional Jewish
habits and attitudes, who frees himself of the pre-America
insecurities and the old, constraining obsessions so as to live
unapologetically as an equal among equals" [p. 85]. How does Roth
illustrate this thought? The Swede tries very hard to form himself
as this ideal person. Does the story imply that such a life, such a
reinvention of the self, is ultimately impossible?
3. There could hardly be two more different personality types
than the Swede and his brother, Jerry. What do Jerry''s positive
traits tell us about the Swede''s negative ones? Why have the two
of them chosen such different paths?
4. Does Lou Levov appear to be a benign or a negative influence
on his sons'' lives? How, if at all, has he contributed in making
the Swede what he is?
5. The passionate kiss that the Swede gave Merry when she was
eleven was a once-in-a-lifetime transgression. "Never in his entire
life, not as a son, a husband, a father, even as an employer, had
he given way to anything so alien to the emotional rules by which
he was governed" [p. 91]. Later the Swede fears that this moment
precipitated the infinite anger of her teenage years. Is this
conclusion erroneous? What does it reveal?
6. The Swede believes that the political radicalism professed by
Merry and Rita Cohen is nothing but "angry, infantile egoism thinly
disguised as identification with the oppressed" [p. 134]. Is the
answer as simple as that? How genuine is Merry''s identification
with the oppressed? Are her political arguments convincing?
7. What effect did the experience of watching, as a child, the
self-immolation of the Buddhist monks have upon Merry? Does her
reaction seem unusual to you? Did it affect what happened to her
8. What effect do all the details about the glove trade have
upon the narrative? How do they illuminate the story?
9. Do you believe Merry when she says that she doesn''t know
Rita Cohen? If she is telling the truth, who might Rita Cohen be?
What is her function within the story?
10. The Swede planned his life to be picture perfect, and he
lived that life until it turned dark and violent. Was his life the
essential American Dream, or was it a nightmare rather than a
pastoral? What comment does the novel''s title make upon the story
11. What are Merry''s feelings for America? What are her
feelings for her parents? How are the two connected?
12. Merry''s stuttering began to disappear when she worked with
dynamite. What emotional purpose did Merry''s stuttering serve, and
why was she able to leave the handicap behind her when she left
13. When the Swede calls Jerry to ask for his advice, he is
treated to a diatribe. "What''s the matter with you?" Jerry asks.
"You''re acceding to her the way you acceded to your father, the
way you have acceded to everything in your life" [p. 273]. Is Jerry
right? Should the Swede force Merry to come home? Why does the
Swede refuse Jerry''s offer to come get Merry himself?
14. Why does Merry, when she becomes a Jain, choose to settle in
the neighborhood of her father''s factory in Newark?
15. Does Dawn, in reinventing herself after Merry''s
disappearance, seem ruthless to you, or do you sympathize with her
struggle for personal survival? When she tells Bill Orcutt that she
always hated the Old Rimrock house, is she telling the truth? And
is she telling the truth when she claims she is glad that she
didn''t become Miss America?
16. Describing his brother, Jerry says, "In one way he could be
conceived as completely banal and conventional. An absence of
negative values and nothing more. Bred to be dumb, built for
convention, and so on" [p. 65]. Is this how you see Swede Levov by
the end of the novel? Does he depart from banality and
17. "His great looks, his larger-than-lifeness, his glory, our
sense of his having been exempted from all self-doubt by his heroic
role--that all these manly properties had precipitated a political
murder made me think of the compelling story...of Kennedy" [p. 83].
In what ways do American Pastoral''s political
metaphors reflect the story of mid-century America? Why might they
be presented through a Kennedy-like figure?
18. The Swede" had learned the worst lesson that life can
teach--that it makes no sense." What leads him to this conclusion?
Did his life in fact make no sense?