Study Guide

American Pastoral Language and Communication

By Philip Roth

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 n****es." (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?

SHE WAS SO OLD EVEN A JEW WOULD DO. HOW OLD WAS SHE, A HUNDRED? (9.223)

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.

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