Study Guide

American Pastoral Politics

By Philip Roth

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 s***ty little capitalist who exploits the brown and yellow people of the word and lives in luxury behind the n*****-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.

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