Study Guide

American Pastoral Appearances

By Philip Roth

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.

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