Study Guide

American Pastoral Warfare

By Philip Roth

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.

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