Study Guide

American Pastoral Deep Throat and Deep Throat

By Philip Roth

Deep Throat and Deep Throat

The X-Rated film Deep Throat (1972) is one topic that frames the conversation at the Labor Day (September 1, 1973) dinner party with which American Pastoral ends. The film features a woman who can't have an orgasm and seeks help from an unconventional doctor for her problem—bow chicka bow bow.

It's also an allusion to the Watergate Scandal, which leads to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. "Deep Throat" was the code name of W. Mark Felt, the secret informant who helped reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward break the story on the Watergate scandal and turned the affair into a media extravaganza.

The Watergate hearings are the other popular topic framing the dinner party conversation. Phase one of the hearings lasted from May 17, 1973, to August 7, 1973, and basically dominated all television channels. The American people were glued to their sets (when they weren't out watching Deep Throat, that is).

The Watergate Scandal wasn't a sexual scandal—it was about a breach of trust between the American people and the highest offices of power. But Deep Throat was both sexual and political. Like Watergate, it was causing quite a scandal, was a media extravaganza, and was "speaking truth to power."

By juxtaposing these two media events, Roth highlights their parallels. Watergate exposed hidden things—what was going on in the White House. And Deep Throat also exposed some, er, hidden things. The film brought the topic of pornography into the American mainstream and encouraged deeper discussion of sex, sexuality, and censorship.

Now, we were careful to say that Deep Throat and Watergate frame the conversation. Or, rather, they form much of the surface conversation that goes on at the Levov family dinner. But below that surface? It's a little different for everyone at the table.

For the Levovs, what's below the surface is each other and what they've become over the past five years. What's below the surface is Merry—especially for the Swede, who sees Merry for the first time in five years just before he comes to the dinner party.

But in a kind of bitter irony, sex is under the surface for the Swede as well: his affair with Sheila; his discovery of Dawn and Bill Orcutt having sex in the kitchen and most of all, Merry's rape. This potent combination of surface and sub-surface material packs a hefty symbolic punch.

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