Study Guide

American Pastoral Writing Style

By Philip Roth

Writing Style

Rothian

Okay, full disclosure: we kind of made that word up. That's what happens when we go into style overload. And Roth has made an industry (that would challenge Newark Maid) out of literary style.

He's always recognizable, but also flexible from piece to piece, adapting his style to the work at hand. By "style," we mean all the other devices we've been discussing, but with a focus on what we can identify as distinctive in form. For example, Roth's work is usually rich in details. In American Pastoral, we get high-impact details (like Merry at twenty-one, or Dawn and Bill Orcutt shucking corn), but also carefully constructed histories and sprawling strolls down memory lane.

The novel has tons of foreshadowing. The opening sections provide all the essential facts we need to be intrigued by the Swede and his daughter. Here's a specific example: Early in the novel, when Zuckerman has finished his book on the Swede, he thinks of sending Jerry a copy. But, he resists, thinking Jerry will say Zuckerman got the Swede wrong. He thinks Jerry will say:

"Christ, you even gave him a mistress. Perfectly misjudged, Zuck. Absolutely off." (3.79)

This foreshadows the Swede's affair with Sheila, but is so low-key that many readers will still feel surprised when the info is revealed, near the end of the novel. Pretty sly.

We also notice a lot of repetition—of information, events, key phrases, even single words. A rather extreme example is the the repetition of the word "astonishing" (2. 9) in the speech Nathan Zuckerman "[doesn't] give at [his] forty-fifth high school reunion." (2.10). This kind of thing gives the prose rhythm and helps make it lyrical in many places.

Roth's stylistic range is pretty impressive; much comedy and tragedy are embedded in the dialogue. As in many of his books, the angry and indignant dialogue is some of the most powerful (and sometimes most tragically funny). Merry, Jerry, and Lou Levov (see "Foils" under "Character Roles" for more) get some of the most intense lines. The long chapters and nonlinear chronology make this a book easy to get lost in, but you're propelled through the confusion by the compelling characters and the intriguing story.

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