Study Guide

American Pastoral Narrator Point of View

By Philip Roth

Narrator Point of View

First Person and Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

The narrative structure of American Pastoral is much discussed. First of all, a discussion of the fiction-writing process is part of the novel. In the first part of the book, we meet the famous author Nathan Zuckerman (author Philip Roth's self proclaimed alter-ego).

Zuckerman describes a string of events going back to his childhood. These events, and his musings on them, inspire him to write a novel from the point of view of Seymour Irving Levov, a.k.a. the Swede, who is Zuckerman's childhood idol. In the first section of the novel Zuckerman gives us the information he uses to create the story we then read, the bare facts he fills in.

Then, in Chapter Three, with the words "I found them in Deal, New Jersey, at the seaside cottage, the summer his daughter was eleven" (3.123), Zuckerman gradually disappears. By the time we get to Chapter Four, he seems to have exited. Something like a traditional third person narrator, who sees only through the Swede's eyes, takes over.

So, do we try to forget about Zuckerman, the way we forget about any author who isn't "in" any other story being told? To a degree, yes. Seeing the fruit of Zuckerman's labor (novel writing is hard work!) unfold is part of the magic.

But Zuckerman isn't so easy to forget. He has a very strong voice and a vivid imagination. He wants us to understand that he understands that he probably got it all wrong. "Writing" he tells Jerry Levov, "turns you into someone who's always wrong" (3.21). Zuckerman wants to make sure we understand that what we are reading is fiction based on fact and not fact itself.

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