Study Guide

American Pastoral Bombs

By Philip Roth

Bombs

Believe us when we say, that with our current levels of 90's nostalgia (why did JNKOs go away? why?!) we're having a really hard time not making a "the bomb" pun. But we're staying strong for your sake.

Everywhere we look in American Pastoral we find the motif of bombs. Chapter Four of the novel covers life for the Swede over the five years of Merry's disappearance. It's punctuated by news of bombings being carried out in the US—by Americans. Before Merry's bombing, the Swede followed the news passively and remained largely unaffected by it. Domestic bombings held no special significance for him. Well, now they do… and everywhere he looks there are bombs.

Merry's bombing has altered the way he perceives reality. It has also changed the way he sees bombs and what bombs symbolize for him. It can be said that he experiences a political awakening as a result, but that's not what the bomb symbolizes for him. He might be more politically aware, but now "bomb" means only one thing to him—it means his daughter is missing. It means he's somehow failed as a father. It means the seemingly perfect life he once had has been blown to smithereens. You know, like it was bombed.

And this gets at the heart of what a bomb symbolizes. Power? Fear? Destruction? To be sure, but even more it means loss—with a bomb there is always human loss. There is always a broken heart, a broken life, for all involved.

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