Study Guide

American Pastoral Religion

By Philip Roth

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.

I'D RATHER NOT LEAVE IT UP TO A CHILD TO DECIDE TO EAT JESUS. I HAVE THE HIGHEST RESPECT FOR WHAT YOU DO, BUT MY GRANDCHILD IS NOT GOING TO EAT JESUS. (9.246)

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.

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