Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 1, Chapter 2

By Philip Roth

Part 1, Chapter 2

 (Note to the reader: We admit it. This next section is hard to summarize without telling you what it is. So we're telling you. It's the speech that Zuckerman doesn't "give at [his] forty-fifth high school reunion, a speech to [him]self masked as a speech to them" (2. 10).

  • Now, you get to hear what the speech is about:
  • We summarize the speech in the present tense, but remember that Zuckerman is (hypothetically) asking his classmates to remember back to the time just after World War II, the time when they were in and graduating high school.)
  • This chapter begins with the sentence "Let's remember the energy" (2.1).
  • America is in charge of a big chunk of the world.
  • Americans are prospering and money is getting looser.
  • Prices are getting more competitive.
  • Workers are demanding higher wages.
  • In Zuckerman's neighborhood, "the boys who came back alive" (2.1) are hanging out and playing basketball with the neighborhood kids.
  • World War II comes to an end six months after Zuckerman and his class start high school.
  • America is intoxicated with itself.
  • Americans can "start over again, en masse, everyone in it together" (2.1).
  • Even though the people are still nervous, and some still suffering from poverty, the whole neighborhood is "bright with industriousness" (2.3)—everybody is working hard at working hard.
  • Sometimes the fever to have goals and work toward them is out of fear and desperation.
  • (This is a Jewish neighborhood, and in 1945-1950 the news was still coming out about the Holocaust. Zuckerman is suggesting that the Jewish people in his neighborhood were working so hard to try to forget about the atrocities in Europe, as well as Anti-Semitism in the good ol' USA.)
  • The neighborhood is "cohesive."
  • The neighborhood kids get lots of advice on succeeding and on not making mistakes.
  • But the kids are trying to decide how far to stray from the rules and fears of the older generations.
  • They are torn between what they want and what they are supposed to do and want.
  • Their, um, urges, are repressed.
  • They really, really don't want to disappoint their elders.
  • Sometimes, the pressure drives a kid crazy, or even to commit suicide […], "but mostly the friction between generations was just sufficient" to make the kids want "to move forward" (2.5).
  • Zuckerman is asking his classmates if he's remembering correctly, and it was a joy to live there, in that neighborhood.
  • He certainly loves it.
  • Could they ever more completely belong to a place than they do as children growing up in it?
  • They all know every detail of the insides and outsides of each others' homes.
  • They all know all the gossip about each others' parents.
  • Still they were lonely in their, um, urges.
  • Zuckerman tells his classmates that "It's astonishing that" they can remember it all so clearly, even though they are close to the age their grandparents were back then when they started high school in February of 1946.
  • Now, the class of 1950 knows everything. All the secrets of its lives. The "future" (2.9) that was a mystery in high school has been "revealed" (2.9).
  • (End speech.)
  • This (as we cheatingly told you before) is the speech that Zuckerman doesn't "give at [his] forty-fifth high school reunion, a speech to [him]self masked as a speech to them" (2.10).
  • He starts writing it "after the reunion, in the dark, in bed, groping to understand what hit [him]" (2.10).
  • It's too long for the reunion, but it sounds good between three in the morning and six in the morning.
  • After the reunion, he drives home to the Berkshires, Massachusetts from New Jersey. It's an eight hour drive.
  • At three, he gets up and writes the speech until six.
  • Then he is able to relax and sleep a little.
  • He thinks he's so excited by the reunion because of his age, and because he's recently recovering from the prostate surgery.
  • He feels like he's "recapturing time past" (2.13).
  • He muses about the nature of time, and how it seemed so easy to understand when he was at the reunion, running into all the old acquaintances.
  • Mendy Gurlic, most handsome, class of 1950, is on the scene at the reunion.
  • He's the class bad boy, the guy who introduces Zuckerman to blues music.
  • Together Mendy and Zuckerman (as kids) go to watch DJ Bill Cook put on his Saturday night show.
  • Zuckerman says that "Mendy called it "boner music" (2. 18).
  • He can't believe Mendy is here before him, not in jail or hell, places Zuckerman thought he'd wind up when they were kids.
  • Actually, he's the owner of successful chain of steak houses.
  • Mendy looks great, but he tells Zuckerman that he was incredibly nervous about this reunion.
  • He shows Zuckerman in the reunion booklet that twenty people from their class are dead.
  • Mendy asks Zuckerman if he gets his prostate checked regularly.
  • Zuckerman says he does.
  • Mendy tells Zuckerman that he's the one who taught Zuckerman to masturbate.
  • Zuckerman thanks him, somewhat sarcastically.
  • Mendy says he's famous as the "the guy who taught Skip Zuckerman to jerk off" (2.35).
  • Zuckerman wishes he had asked people more questions at the reunion, but he was in a daze. Everything seemed too real, like he was seeing through to the truth of things.
  • He runs into a guy named Ira Posner who he doesn't recognize.
  • But Ira says that he used to come home with Zuckerman when they were kids, and that Zuckerman's father treated him so nicely that it changed his life.
  • He runs into Alan Meisner, whose father had dry cleaners. Alan is now "a superior court judge" (2.52).
  • After they eat dinner, and have dessert and coffee, someone asks Zuckerman, "Is it true what you said at the mike, you don't have kids or anything like that?" (2.54).
  • Around that moment, Zuckerman sees that Jerry Levov is at the reunion; he'd arrived late.

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