Study Guide

American Pastoral Quotes

  • Visions of America

    Where was the Jew in him? You couldn't find it yet you knew it was there. (1.45)

    Being Jewish in America is one of Zuckerman's major themes. He delights in exploring Jewish stereotypes and Jewish realities. In American Pastoral's predecessor, The Human Stain, Zuckerman's hero is Coleman "Silky" Silk, a man passing as a Jew who is not a Jew. Here we have the Swede, a man who is Jewish, but who can pass as Gentile.

    "It's the worst city in the world, Skip." (1.60)

    Newark is the heart of Philip Roth's America. It's always the most wonderful and the most awful place in the world. From the time of the 1967 riots to 1995, when Zuckerman and the Swede are eating at Vincent's, Newark has fallen on troubled times and is a hotbed of poverty, crime, and despair.

    The depression had disappeared. Everything was in motion. The lid was off. Americans were to start over again, in masse, everyone in it together. (2.1)

    This is from the speech Zuckerman writes in the wee hours of the morning after he's already been to his forty-fifth high school reunion. He's thinking about America just after the end of World War II. It's the mood of America in general, as he perceived it as a child in his specific neighborhood.

    The daughter who transports [the Swede] out of the longed for American pastoral and […] into the indigenous American berserk. (3.114)

    This is one of the novel's most quoted lines. The word "indigenous" is important. It alludes to the indigenous or original inhabitants of America (the Native Americans) and the extreme violence done to them in the name of the American dream. On some level, the novel connects the tragedy of Merry with that original American tragedy.

    A TWA jet is bombed in Las Vegas. […] A bomb goes off in the pentagon—in a women's restroom on the fourth floor of the Air Force area of the Pentagon! (4.176)

    During the five years Merry is missing, between 1968 and 1973, the Swede watches a lot of news. This is a snippet of dozens of similar news items. Readers have to look lots of stuff up to determine which of the news bites are real and which are the products of the twisted mind of Nathan Zuckerman. Either way, this period in American history was extremely volatile.

    These were the factories where people had lost fingers and arms and got their feet crushed and their face scalded, where children once labored in the heat and the cold, the nineteenth century factories that churned up people and churned up goods […]. (5.65)

    This moment, when the Swede is exploring Merry's neighborhood, hearkens back to another volatile period in American history (the US Civil War) and the factories of Newark during that time.

    During the week in September 1949 leading up to the Miss America Pageant, when she called Newark every night from the Dennis Hotel […], what radiated from herself was sheer delight in being herself. (5.7)

    Is this Dawn's sheer delight in American pageantry, or the Swede's? When she's suicidal and hospitalized after Merry's depression, Dawn tells the Swede that the Miss America Pageant was the worst experience of her life… and not just because she didn't win. He thinks she's just saying this because of her state. What do you think?

    The loneliness he would feel as a man without all his American feelings. (6.53)

    This is a touching moment. Love of country can be strong. Although some of the Swede's innermost reasons for loving America are put forth as naïve (and even dangerous and deluded), he is also always sincere.

    The way his father talked to people, that got him, too, the American way his father said to the guy at the pump, "Fill 'er up, Mack. Check the front end, will ya, Chief?" (5.50)

    If we didn't know better, we'd think the Swede just landed in America from some harsh planet and is reveling in its strange customs and funny speech.

    This place where she worked certainly didn't make it look as if she continued to believe her calling was to change the course of American History. (5.74)

    Merry is working at a dog and cat hospital in a dangerous and decrepit section of Newark. But is the Swede right or wrong? Can Merry change the course of American history by caring for animals in the worst part of town?

    […] from the look of her she could have been not fifty minutes east of Old Rimrock, but in Delhi or Calcutta […] (6.2)

    This vision of Newark presents a stark contrast to Old Rimrock. The moment also alludes to Merry's feeling of connection with people outside of America.

    "You want Miss America? Well, you've got her, with a vengeance—she's your daughter!" (6.258)

    This, of course, is Jerry Levov yelling violently at the Swede when the Swede is on the edge of despair over Merry. Jerry is suggesting that Merry Levov as a Jain is closer to the "true" face of America than Miss America herself.

    Wasn't a Jew, wasn't an Irish Catholic, wasn't a Protestant Christian—nope, Johnny Appleseed was a just a happy American. (7.145)

    For the Swede, being American means not having to worry about messy religious issues unless you want to… and he definitely doesn't want to.

  • Language and Communication

    "You're Zuckerman? […] The author?" (1.20)

    Writing is Zuckerman's chief means of communication. These quotes you're reading suggest he's pretty good with words. His books are often obsessed with miscommunications, with fluidity, with speech, and with a wide variety of communication tools.

    "[…] her brain is so quick, so much quicker than her tongue— " (3.134)

    This is the Swede's explanation for Merry's stuttering. It's way different from the view of Merry's psychiatrist, who thinks she does it on purpose to get back at her parents for being so outwardly perfect. Merry's stuttering gets lots and lots of focus in the novel. Why?

    The stuttering diary was a red three-ring notebook in which, at the suggestion of her speech therapist, Merry kept a record of when she stuttered. (3.136)

    So Merry has to write down the mistakes she makes when she's speaking. This is only one of the ways that botched communication is compounded in American Pastoral.

    "You f-f-ucking madman! You heartless mi-mi-mi-miserable m-monster!" (3.138)

    Merry is addressing Lyndon Johnson in 1968, when she's sixteen. She blames him for letting the Vietnam War go on. It's a study in communication because Merry is talking to him while he's on TV. She can hear him, but he can't hear her. She feels powerless.

    He had been admitted into a mystery more bewildering even than Merry's stuttering: there was no fluency anywhere. It was all stuttering. In bed at night, he pictured the whole of his life as a stuttering mouth and a grimacing face […] (3.93)

    This is the Swede's grim vision of life, after Merry detonates the bomb and disappears for five years. After this event, nothing in life makes any sense to him at all.

    "Most of this factory's employees are negroes." (4.195)

    This is the sign that Vicky, the forewoman at Newark Maid, puts up in the windows during the 1967 "race riots." The windows with the signs are shot out by what the Swede thinks are racist white policemen.

    An editorial recording the tragedy and commemorating Dr. Conlon is thumbtacked to the Community Club bulletin board and hangs there, right out by the street. (4.203)

    The Swede really wants to tear this article about Merry down from the bulletin board that's near where Hamlin's store used to be. When the new store is built a year later, the articles finally come down.

    Suspected Bomber is Described as Bright, Gifted but with "Stubborn Streak." (4.204)

    Of all the hundreds of articles about Merry that the Swede read, this one bothers him the most. Why do you think this is?

    "And what is wrong with decency?" (8.82)

    This is Bill Orcutt talking, not long after the Swede sees him having sex with Dawn in the kitchen. Given this, how would you categorize Orcutt's speech in this moment?


    Unless you are Dawn and the Swede, this moment is pretty funny. Roth's decision to put Lou's words in caps in his conversation with Dawn makes it seem all the more ludicrous.

  • Family

    […] men for whom the most serious thing in life is to keep going despite everything. And we were their sons. It was our job to love them. (1.12)

    Zuckerman is signaling us that father-son relationships feature in the novel. He's also giving us a peak into the philosophy that's helped to shape the Swede, who does keep going despite everything.

    "Two wives, that's my limit." (1. 96)

    The Swede seems to toss this off casually to Zuckerman at Vincent's in 1995. When we learn about his life with Dawn, the first wife, they have a deeper resonance.

    "I always knew he knew where she was. He'd been going to see her in hiding for years. I believe he saw her frequently." (3.71)

    These lines near the beginning of American Pastoral are the way we know the Swede probably continues a relationship with Merry after Labor Day, 1973.

    "I miss my daughter." (3.70)

    Four really heart wrenching words, even though we don't know the whole story. The image of the Swede, sitting in his car crying while the rest of the family celebrates is painful.

    "She's dead, Jerry." (3.70)

    This is how we know that Merry dies in 1993 at about forty-one years old. We don't know how she dies, or what her life was like after 1973.

    If only he could have let her just fade away. But not even the Swede was that great. (3.104)

    These lines can be read as ironic, or not, or both at the same time. Is it really "great" to forget about a child, whatever the circumstances are? Or are there times when it's in the best interest of all involved to let the child go? Would your feelings toward the Swede change if he had forgotten about Merry?

    The worst of the world has taken his child. If only that beautifully chiseled body had never been born. (3.217)

    In this awful moment, the Swede's wishing that Merry had never been born seems to have much more to do with her being raped than with her killing people

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

    This is what Zuckerman imagines Jerry will say if Zuckerman sends him the book about the Swede. Nice way to discreetly foreshadow the revelation of the Swede's affair with Sheila?

    "Black or brown, honey." (4.41)

    That's the Swede, about to make Rita Cohen a pair of Newark Maid gloves, before he knows she's psychopathic. He's calling her honey because she somehow reminds him of Merry, and life feels the way it was before the bomb.

    Three generations in raptures over America. […] And now with the fourth it has all come to nothing. The total vandalization of their world. (5.13)

    Lou Levov's father came to the US in the 1890s. Merry is the fourth generation American child. She shatters the American dreams of her family.

    When he overheard her telling the architect, Bill Orcutt, that she had always hated the house, the Swede was as stunned as if she were telling Orcutt she hated her husband. (5.24)

    When the Swede sees Dawn and Orcutt having sex together in the kitchen, he does feel hated by Dawn. Do you think she hates him?

    […] he saw Meditation #27 go up on the very spot where once there had been a portrait of Merry that he'd loved […] (7.150)

    A chilling moment for the theme of family. Merry's photograph is replaced by one of Orcutt's paintings of nothing. It seems really harsh, but grief makes people act in desperate ways.

    He has seen that we don't come from one another, that it only appears we come from one another. (9.343)

    The Swede seems to be saying that there is something beyond genes and blood that decides which child is born to which parents.

  • Warfare

    He had just finished up his boot training […] when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. (1.17)

    The Swede joined the Marines after high school with the intention of fighting in World War II. The war ends, and the Swede didn't fight. The atomic bombs foreshadow Merry's bombing later in the book.

    The war-crimes trials were cleansing the earth of its devils once and for all. Atomic powers were ours alone. (2.1)

    We detect a hint of sarcasm in this snippet from Zuckerman's post-high school reunion speech. Notice the difference in the way Zuckerman and the Swede look at and talk about America.

    "Good-bye, Americana; hello real time." (3.65)

    Jerry is suggesting that before Merry drops the bomb, the Swede was living in an illusory fantasy that there is no war at home.

    "I'm not going to spend my whole life wrestling with a stutter when kids are b-b-being […] roasted alive by Lyndon B-b-b-bains b-b-b-bu-burn-'em up Johnson!" (3.140)

    Much of the Vietnam War is televised. The war is in Merry's living room as far as she's concerned.

    "Start in your hometown, Merry. That's the way to end the war." (3.155)

    Merry takes her father's advice… but we don't think bombing the post office was quite what he had in mind. He wanted her to start a letter-writing campaign in reaction to the Vietnam War.

    "Today we attacked the Pentagon, the center of the American military command. We are reacting at a time when growing U.S. air and naval shelling are being carried out against the Vietnamese." (4.165)

    This alludes to a real event in 1972, the year before Merry comes back, the bombing of the Pentagon by the Weather Underground. Is this similar to or different from what Merry does?

    He tells her how Vicky alone stayed with him in the building, round the clock, during the '67 riots. (4.192)

    The '67 Newark riots—which were a real event, by the way—made Newark seem like a war zone.

    Eighteen years old and that was the Marine Corps to me, the rapid firing, air cooled .30 caliber machine gun. What a patriotic kid that innocent kid was. Wanted to fire the tank killer, the hand-held bazooka rocket. (5.52)

    The Swede is thinking about his enthusiasm for joining the Marines after he has learned where to find Merry. It's safe to say that he doesn't think about weapons of war in the same way he did when he was just getting out of high school.

    "No, you didn't make the war. You made the angriest kid in America. Ever since she was a kid, every word she spoke was a bomb." (6.271)

    Is Jerry's assessment of Merry fair? Does she wage war on her family from the day she is born? Does her family wage war on her? Is she really the angriest kid in America? From what the Swede sees on the news, her anger isn't out of place.

  • Politics

    "Just a liberal sweetheart of a father. […] Brought her up with all the modern ideas of being rational with your children. Everything is permissible." (3.67)

    The "proper" ways of raising kids is a hot topic no matter what time you live in. Jerry is super critical of the way the Swede raised Merry, implying that if the Swede had been more strict with her the bombing never would have happened.

    "Merry has a credo, Dawn, Merry has a political position." (3.141)

    There really isn't much anyone can do to stop Merry from having a political position. She's smart, but doesn't know how to deal with the intense politics surrounding her. The combination of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement in the US is giving Merry more political information than she can rationally process.

    "Daddy, everything is political." (3.146)

    Is Merry right? Is there anything in American Pastoral that can be separated from political issues? Is there anything in life that can?

    "To change the system and give political power to the ninety percent of the people who have little or no political control now." (4.174)

    This is Merry's mission statement (and also the mission statement of other activists the Swede sees in the news). Compare this statement to the rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street: "We are the 99%!"

    You're nothing but a shitty little capitalist who exploits the brown and yellow people of the word and lives in luxury behind the nigger-proof security gates of his mansion." (4.68)

    Who but Rita Cohen would speak like this to the Swede? Rita doesn't seem to see the Swede as part of the human race she claims to be trying to protect. Whatever truth there might be in her message is lost in the anger and irrationality of the delivery.

    Angela tells [the Swede] that everything he's heard about Communism is a lie. (4.192)

    As we discuss briefly in her "Character Analysis," Angela Davis is a real person, an influential figure in the Civil Rights movement. She is a member of the Communist Party. As a fictional character in the novel, as imagined by the Swede, she presents a rational counterpart to Merry and Rita Cohen in terms of activism.

    She had concluded by this time that there could never be a revolution in America to uproot the forces of racism and reaction and greed. (6.173)

    In fact there is a revolution going on, but Merry picked a disastrous way to be involved in it. She idealizes Cuba as a place where racism, greed, and reaction are eradicated. What was Cuba like between 1968 and 1973, during the time Merry wants to go there?

    "Merry feels it's all gone beyond writing letters to the president. She feels that's futile. You feel that, futile or not, it's something within your power to do […] at least to continue to put yourself on the record." (7.37)

    The Swede is usually more interested in keeping the people around him from fighting than in the validity of any particular position. Merry seeks to put herself on record in a more serious way than writing letters. Whether or not her actions had more or less impact on ending the war than Lou's letter is up for hot debate.

  • Memory and the Past

    "I figured that of all the forms of bullshit-nostalgia available this was the one least likely to be without unsettling surprises" (3.9)

    Zuckerman goes to the high school reunion hoping for a blast from the past that will hopefully give him an idea for a new book. He doesn't come right out and say this, but we can read between the lines.

    "You should have seen your face—you might well have told us he was Zeus. I saw just what you looked like as a boy." (1.35)

    Zuckerman's friend makes this comment after they run into the Swede in 1985. This provides some verification that Zuckerman isn't just making up his idolization of the Swede.

    […] how had he become history's plaything? (3.118)

    Because Merry's action was so extreme, it is part of history. It's recorded in the newspapers and in the files of the FBI. As her father, he doesn't make history himself, but is controlled by the historical events around him.

    There was no longer any innocence in what he remembered of his past. (3.129)

    When we come to know how much the Swede loves his life before the bomb drops, this moment is extremely poignant. In a way, he becomes like Merry and now looks back on his ideal American life with an eye towards its global implications. With that view, the whole world seems sinister and inexplicable.

    It could have been his father talking to her. For all he knew, every word of every sentence uttered by him he had heard from his father's mouth before he finished grad school […]. (4.9)

    The Swede is extremely influenced by the memories of his father. His Dad's words are ingrained in his brain. Do you ever find yourself repeating the words of your parents? Is the Swede extreme in this regard?

    Momentarily it was then again—nothing blown up, nothing ruined. (4.11)

    The sight of Rita Cohen at Newark Maid, diligently taking notes and asking questions reminds him of Merry and of a more innocent time.

    The stupendousness of the rape blotted out everything. (6.216)

    Even though the Swede didn't see Merry raped, the fresh memory of her description of it, combined with his own imagining, creates a memory that he probably won't be able to forget for the rest of his life.

    What she did not tell him about was Merry in her house—after the bombing, Merry hiding in her house. (8.64)

    This is one of the secrets from the not-so-distant past that comes out when the Swede meets Merry. It definitely colors the memory of his affair with Sheila, which must have started almost right after she hid Merry. It also makes his memories of not knowing where Merry was even more frustrating. He thinks it would have made a difference if Sheila had called him, but he isn't sure how.

    On the desk their used to be a snapshot of Merry, age thirteen. (9.29)

    Dawn appears to be doing everything in her power to erase her memories of Merry. Some readers think this is selfish and cold; others agree with the Swede and think she's doing it to save her life. What do you think?

  • Appearances

    "Swede Levov! It rhymes with… "The Love"… Swede Levov! It rhymes with… "The Love […]." (1.4)

    Did we mention the Swede has his own cheer? This lends to (and stems from) his appearance of being the perfect guy with the perfect life.

    That was the second reason I answered his letter. The substratum. What sort of mental existence had been his? (1.42)

    This very Zuckermanian question is the impetus behind much of the novel. Zuckerman wants to get into the Swede's head, but he needs to find a way beneath the Swede's visible surface. Until he does there will be no book.

    Only… What did he do for subjectivity? What was the Swede's subjectivity? (1.45)

    "Subjectivity' is the inner life and thoughts of a person. At this point, Zuckerman has had the Swede on a pedestal for so long, he is very close to dehumanizing him.

    He has devised for himself an incognito, and the incognito has become him. (1.55)

    Incognito is just such a fun word. The Swede basically exists entirely in incognito mode. Many Zuckerman adventures explore people who try to hide, or change, or disguise their identities.

    "I was wrong. I was never more mistaken about anyone in my life." (1.100)

    This is Zuckerman's motto throughout the sections of the novel he graces with his presence. It becomes the Swede's motto too—in terms of Merry, Dawn, his brother, even himself.

    "A shiksa," the narrator thinks. "Dawn Dwyer. He'd done it." (1.18)

    "Shiksa" is a term that shows up often in Roth novels. Shiksas are any non-Jewish women. The term can be used derogatorily or for humorous effect. Jewish parents like Lou Levov don't want their sons marrying shiksas. Dawn is kind of an ultimate shiksa because she's almost Miss America.

    He envisioned his life as a stutterer's thought, wildly out of control. (3.130)

    After the bombing, the Swede's present, past, and future and everything he sees around him is no longer possible to understand or express. This is Roth's prose at its best: think of the horror in the beauty in the image of seeing your life as a stutterer's thought. But, hey, the Swede is assuming that a stutterer's thoughts are also stuttered. Given the situation with Merry, we won't get on his case too much for that.

    "She wants her Audrey Hepburn scrapbook." (4.52)

    This comment from Rita bursts apart the Swede's image of Rita as an innocent, young student. It also points to the importance Merry places on images: she clearly idolizes the perfect and adored Audrey Hepburn.

    He was totally wrong. (5.23)

    The Swede, like Zuckerman, says this a lot. In this case, he's talking about Dawn. After her face lift he thinks she's going to continue on a downward spiral. Instead, she recovers… at least on the surface.

    […] she wanted to raise beef cattle. (5.32)

    The contrast between the image of beauty queen and that of a woman working all day with cattle seems very important to Dawn. But, her image of herself working with cattle is tied with her image of herself as Merry's mother, an image she has to put out of her head if she can.

    "[…] it ain't finished." (7.151)

    Lou is talking about the infamous painting by Bill Orcutt that Dawn puts on the wall to replace a portrait of Merry. At least from the Swede's point of view, Orcutt's painting is a painting of "nothing." Symbolically, Merry is being replaced by something insubstantial or unfinished.

    Rita Cohen does not exist. (9.16)

    Since nothing to do with Rita makes any sense, and since her presence casts doubt on Merry's story, it would be so easy for the Swede if she didn't exist. Could she actually be a figment of the Swede's imagination? We can never know for sure.

  • Guilt and Blame

    No one gets through unmarked by brooding, grief, confusion, and loss. (1.46)

    Zuckerman is basically trying to humanize the Swede by imagining his pain. He's saying that if he is human, he must suffer and he must feel guilty about something.

    "The Swede has suffered a shock." (1.47)

    Since this is a Philip Roth book, there's a good chance there's a healthy dose of guilt mixed up with this shock that Zuckerman is (almost sadistically) trying to uncover.

    I am thinking of the Swede's great fall and of how he must have imagined that it was founded on some failure of his own responsibility. […] It doesn't matter if he was the cause of anything. He makes himself responsible anyway. (3.121)

    Doesn't it sound fun to be the hero in a Zuckerman story? But really, this is after Zuckerman learns of the bombing. Wouldn't this be true of many parents in a similar situation?

    "To pay everybody back for her stuttering, she set of the bomb." (3.71)

    One might expect a more medically accurate statement from hot-shot cardiac surgeon Jerry Levov. He's close though, at least on one level. Merry tells the Swede that working with bombs made her stop stuttering.

    "Daddy, kiss me the way you k-k-kiss umummother." (3.123)

    The first thing Zuckerman thinks the Swede might have done to feel guilty about is the questionable kiss that the Swede gives Merry. It's not just kissing her that makes him feel guilty, however, but also the way he physically withdrew from her afterwards. As far as we know, this is one thing the Swede and Merry never discuss.

    "She is an extremely bright and vindictive child. […] I'm telling you that stuttering can be an extremely manipulative, an extremely useful, if not even a vindictive type of behavior." (3.134)

    Merry's psychiatrist is blaming Merry for her stuttering. He claims it's a reaction against having two extraordinarily good-looking and successful parents.

    "Don't you know what made Merry Merry? Sixteen years of living in a household where she is hated by that mother." (4.90)

    Rita blames Dawn—not necessarily for the bombing (which Rita undoubtedly thinks is a good thing), but for Merry's unhappy childhood.

    That was what had done it. Into their home the monk came to stay, the Buddhist monk calmly sitting out his burning up as though he were a man both fully alert and anesthetized. (4.181)

    The novel questions the role the media plays in shaping the realities of both adults and children. In this way, it enters the debate over what is appropriate viewing for children at different ages.

    "I killed four people," she replied, as innocently as she might have once told him, "I baked cookies in the afternoon." (6.189)

    There goes the Swede's hopes of Merry's innocence, although he continues to see her as a victim for sure.

    Now that he could not stop imagining the rapes, there was no relief, not for one second, from the desire to go out and kill somebody. (6.209)

    The worst of the guilt and blame come out in the Swede once he hears about the rapes.

    "As a thing—you loved her as a fucking thing. The way you love your wife." (6.241)

    The Swede does seem rather blind to the real Dawn and admits to us that her beauty is a huge part of his attraction to her. (Big surprise!) He seems to negate, at least in his mind, her own versions of her life when they differ from his. He seems less guilty of doing this to Merry.

    "I gave her all I could, everything, everything. […] I swear to you I gave everything." And now he is crying easily, there is no line between him and his crying […] (6.271)

    This is the Swede after Jerry has told him in no uncertain terms that everything is his fault.

  • Religion

    And then one day everything Catholic came down off the wall for good. (3.133)

    Dawn's mother is a devout Catholic. Merry becomes fascinated with Catholicism, but only briefly.

    If she missed a self-immolation on the evening news, she got up early to see it on the morning news before school. (3.184)

    Beginning in 1963, when Merry is eleven, Tibetan Buddhist monks lit themselves on fire in protest. This is an example of a political protest from a religious group.

    Your daughter is divine. (5.2)

    This is what Rita writes in the letter she sends to the Swede telling him where to find Merry. It makes Rita sound even crazier than before and takes the Swede's confusion to new heights. It helps show that there is almost as much religious confusion in the book as there is political confusion.

    Put your money on it, bet on it, worship it—bow down in submission not to Karl Marx, my stuttering angry idiot child, not to Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung—bow down to the great god Loneliness! (5.74)

    This is the Swede's response to Merry's earlier comment that "Everything is political" (3.146). Loneliness, according to the Swede, trumps everything in life, and loneliness drives all our decisions.

    She had become a Jain. […] The Jains were a relatively small Indian religious sect […]. Whether Merry's practices were typical or of her own devising he could not be certain […] (6.1)

    This is a nice disclaimer that hopefully alerts the reader not to come to any specific conclusions about Jainism from this book. We also point it out because it's the end point of the religious trajectory we see Merry on throughout the book. It would be nice know if she stays a Jain for the rest of her life or goes on to something else.

    She wore the veil to do no harm to the microscopic organisms that dwell in the air we breathe. (6.1)

    Merry is now trying to practice extreme nonviolence, the flip side of bombing people. This connects with her job at the animal hospital as well.

    His father was right. That was what happened. They raised a child who was neither Catholic nor Jew, who instead was first a stutterer, then a killer, then a Jain. (9.146)

    The anxiety Lou expresses over inter-religious marriage goes to extremes. While the Swede would rather forget about religion altogether, he sure can't do it with Lou around.


    Roth has lots of fun with religion, especially his own. In this scene, Lou and Dawn are bargaining over the religion of a child who hasn't even been conceived. This conversation is one of the funniest parts of the book.

  • Literature and Writing

    "You're Zuckerman? […] The author?" (1.20)

    Zuckerman's identity is first revealed to the readers in this moment. This is also the first encounter between Zuckerman and the Swede in decades.

    I was wrong. (1.49)

    Zuckerman meets the Swede to find out something juicy, interesting, and tragic. It's right there under his nose, but he doesn't see it. He has no idea about Merry, even though he later thinks the Swede thought that he knew all about it.

    He wants something recorded. (1.74)

    Zuckerman isn't just out to poke around in the Swede's head for fiction-worthy gems, but also to make a record of something that could be important. We can see this side of Zuckerman in all the careful details of the times and the places where the action plays out.

    "Who are you, Socrates? I don't buy it. Purely the writer. The single-minded writer. Nothing more." (3.236)

    If Jerry knew that Zuckerman was "impotent and incontinent" after prostate surgery, Zuckerman's purity might be easier to grasp.

    "Writing turns you into someone who's always wrong." (3.21)

    If you don't write anything, you can't write something untrue. But, as soon as you write something down, it's going to be wrong to someone, somewhere, on some level. That's all Zuckerman is trying to say.

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

    Zuckerman wants to make really sure we understand that he understands that he's writing fiction, and that since he never even talked to the Swede about any of this stuff, it can't be right. At the same time, he's hoping to capture some of the emotions the Swede likely felt.

    "I found them in Deal, New Jersey, at the seaside cottage, the summer his daughter was eleven." (3.123)

    This is the beginning of the end of Zuckerman in this novel. A few more smarty-pants comments and then he fades out of the scene and lets the Swede take over.