Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 1, Chapter 3

By Philip Roth

Part 1, Chapter 3

  • Nathan Zuckerman, Jerome Levov (Jerry)
  • (We are still in the high school reunion flashback.)
  • Zuckerman knows Jerry lives in Florida, so he assumed he wouldn't be at the reunion.
  • But here he is, with the same face Zuckerman remembers from the ping-pong ball matches, angry and hot tempered.
  • A man who knows nothing of "compromise" (3.1).
  • Jerry says he's surprised to see Zuckerman, too.
  • He says that the whole reunion business is "nostalgia. It's bulls***" (3.6).
  • (Jerry is using "nostalgia" to mean looking back with longing on an idealized past.)
  • Zuckerman thinks that Jerry's insistence on looking at things his own way explains why he's been married so many times.
  • Jerry asks Zuckerman why he decided to show up at the reunion.
  • Zuckerman says "of all the forms of bulls***-nostalgia available this was the one least likely to be without unsettling surprises" (3.9).
  • (Meaning, he came because he thought he could find some "unsettling surprises.")
  • Jerry keeps asking Zuckerman about his life.
  • He explains that he lives like a recluse, without women, just writing.
  • Jerry doesn't quite believe him.
  • Zuckerman changes the subject to the Swede, tells Jerry he saw him a few months ago.
  • Jerry tells him that the Swede died of cancer a few days before. Jerry is in town for the funeral.
  • Zuckerman can't believe it.
  • Jerry begins talking about his brother, and then reveals that the Swede had a daughter named Merry, who is a "murderer" (3.61).
  • He says that the Swede's "life was blown up by that bomb" (3.61).
  • Zuckerman doesn't know what Jerry is talking about.
  • Jerry explains that the Swede's daughter Merry, dubbed "The Rimrock Bomber" by the media, blew up the post office and killed a doctor in the process.
  • She did it to protest the Vietnam War. Jerry calls her a "Ho-Chi-Minhite" (3.67).
  • (Ho Chi Minh was "the founder and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Communist North". Jerry is using the term negatively, to refer to an American sympathizing with Minh during the Vietnam War.)
  • Zuckerman is amazed he didn't hear about it.
  • Jerry says it happened in 1968, when all the "kids [were] going crazy" (3.67).
  • The bomb tore the Swede apart. Everything was perfect for him before that.
  • Zuckerman wonders if Jerry's version of the Swede is influenced by the fact that the Swede is dead.
  • He asks Jerry if the Swede told him that the bomb wrecked his life.
  • Jerry says he did, but "only once" (3.70).
  • Apparently, about two years ago there was a Levov family dinner. The Swede was really enjoying himself.
  • The Swede had gotten up around desert time, and Jerry had followed him.
  • He found him in his car crying. He told Jerry, "I miss my daughter" (3. 70).
  • Jerry asked the Swede where she was and the Swede said, "She's dead, Jerry" (3.70).
  • At first, Jerry doesn't believe him, he tells Zuckerman.
  • But he feels a huge relief.
  • He tells the Swede that whether or not Merry is dead, the Swede needs to forget about her.
  • According to Jerry, worrying about Merry, but never showing his anger, is what finally killed the Swede.
  • Jerry continues, telling Zuckerman that the Swede was "fatally attracted to his duty" (3.74), that he was too concerned with doing his duty to have any of his own thoughts.
  • Jerry criticized the Swede's wife Dawn, Merry's mother. Nothing ever pleased her. Even the expensive face lift the Swede agreed to buy for her.
  • Merry was a stutterer, and, according to Jerry, "to pay everybody back for her stuttering, she set off the bomb" (3.76).
  • Jerry says he can't understand how Merry could hate a wonderful father like the Swede.
  • He can't understand how such a horrible child came from a man like the Swede.
  • Jerry continues raving, but when someone comes up to him and Zuckerman, Jerry wanders away and this is the last Zuckerman sees of him.
  • (End high school reunion flashback.)
  • Over the coming month Zuckerman writes about the Swede for up to ten hours a day, imagining his life.
  • First Zuckerman leaves in the real names and events that would identify the Swede.
  • Before he sets out to change the names and disguise the events, he has an urge to send the draft to Jerry.
  • (This is kind of a weird statement, because it implies that the Swede's name is changed in the book. Since we are reading the book in question, does this mean that the Swede's name is not really the Swede, or that we are reading the first draft?)
  • Anyhow, Zuckerman knows Jerry will just say that Zuckerman got the Swede wrong in the book.
  • He imagines Jerry saying, "this is the mind he didn't have. Christ, you even give him a mistress. Perfectly misjudged, Zuck. Absolutely off" (3.79).
  • Zuckerman seems to agree with Jerry on the point.
  • First, before writing the book Zuckerman goes to the "abandoned Newark Maid factory" (3.80), the Swede's childhood home, his home in Rimrock, and at the new store that was built to replace the one Merry had blown up along with the post office.
  • He goes to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the Swede's wife Dawn was raised, and looks at her family church.
  • He is even able to get a photo of her being crowned Miss New Jersey, 1949.
  • Then he rereads the books by John Tunis, the ones he first saw in the Swede's childhood bedroom.
  • Zuckerman knows that his portrait of the Swede is different from the "real" Swede.
  • But, he thinks that because the Swede is so hard to see through, so deeply hidden, anyone could imagine his inner life, and it would be impossible to say who is right and who is wrong.
  • (The high school reunion flashback begins again.)
  • The woman who interrupts Jerry asks Zuckerman if he remembers her.
  • She says she's Joy Helpern.
  • He remembers her. She was a pretty girl with red hair, and she looked good in a sweater.
  • Zuckerman still fantasizes about her.
  • They are still attracted to each other, but as usual, Zuckerman is thinking about the Swede, and his daughter's bomb.
  • Zuckerman is thinking about the dinner at Vincent's, and how the Swede went on and on about his wonderful sons.
  • He must have thought Zuckerman knew about Merry and the bomb and was showing him that things were now okay.
  • Maybe, Merry was what the Swede really wanted to talk about to begin with.
  • Zuckerman thinks about how he really missed what was right in front of his face.
  • Yes, the story about writing a tribute to his father was just a ruse.
  • Merry is what was tearing him up inside. The mask Zuckerman saw was the mask he puts on for the world to keep them from seeing his horror.
  • He thinks the Swede must have known he was dying, and that as a dying man, the tragedy of his daughter haunted him worse than ever.
  • So, he thinks that maybe telling Zuckerman, "the writer" (3. 107) will somehow help.
  • But, Zuckerman imagines, the Swede realizes that telling him the story will only make it worse.
  • Zuckerman can't believe that the Swede "turned to [him], of all people, and he was conscious of everything and [Zuckerman] was conscious of nothing" (3.107).
  • He imagines the Swede's wife and sons and mother at the Rimrock house, mourning him.
  • Maybe, Merry isn't really dead, and she comes out of hiding to cry over her father's grave in disguise.
  • But then again, she probably is dead, Zuckerman thinks. Maybe she got murdered.
  • (We are still in the high school reunion flashback.)
  • As Zuckerman is thinking about the Swede, Joy is telling him the things he didn't know about her when they were kids.
  • Her father had died of a heart attack before she was ten and she and her mother and brother were poor.
  • Her brother slept in the kitchen, and she and her mother shared a bed.
  • She didn't get close to Zuckerman because she was ashamed of her family's poverty and didn't want him to see it.
  • The song "Dream" comes on and Joy starts to cry.
  • Zuckerman thinks about all the old days, and, of course, about the Swede.
  • He thinks that Merry is, "The daughter who transports [the Swede] out of the longed for American pastoral and […] into the indigenous American berserk" (3.114).
  • (For some discussion of this, see "What's Up With the Title.")
  • Zuckerman and Joy are dancing to "Dream" and Zuckerman is still thinking about the Swede.
  • He says, "I am thinking of the Swede's great fall and of how he must have imagined that it was founded on some failure of his own responsibility. […] It doesn't matter if he was the cause of anything. He makes himself responsible" (3.121).
  • (This is an important line because it shows that in the story to come, Zuckerman isn't blaming the Swede for what happened with Merry, but exploring how the Swede might have blamed himself.)
  • He wonders what the Swede might have done wrong with Merry that would have made him feel most responsible.
  • While he's dancing with Joy he begins to dream "a realistic chronicle" (3.123).
  • He first imagines the Swede "in Deal, New Jersey, at the seaside cottage, the summer when his daughter was eleven" (3.123).
  • (We are now in 1963)
  • They are driving back from the beach, and Merry "half innocently and half audaciously" (3.123) says, "Daddy, kiss me the way you k-k-kiss umumumother" (3.123).
  • He makes fun of her and her feelings are hurt.
  • He hasn't seen her so hurt in a long time.
  • Her mother puts lots of pressure on her to overcome the stuttering.
  • Merry thinks that the stuttering isn't a big problem, but how her mother feels about it is.
  • And now he's made fun of her.
  • She's stammering, and he holds her and kisses her passionately.
  • Uh oh.
  • He becomes a little frightened.
  • It was the first time he'd given over to a strange urge.
  • He knows it wasn't anything serious, and that it has only lasted a few seconds. It never happens again, but later on, when Merry starts to lose control, the Swede wonders if this was the moment that turned everything bad.
  • He would also wonder if he'd been to cold and distant with Merry after the kiss, out of fear that she was afraid he would do something like that again.
  • In doing so, maybe he made her feel unloved or rejected.
  • All he'd wanted to do was help her and make her feel better!
  • So, if it wasn't the kiss, what?
  • When Merry is eleven, she is really into Audrey Hepburn and keeps a scrapbook with pictures of her.
  • Before that she was into astronomy, 4-H, and she was even in love with Catholicism for a while, because of her very Catholic grandmother on her mother's side.
  • Merry tries really hard to be a great daughter.
  • She goes to ballet lessons, and she goes to speech therapy twice a week.
  • She rides her bike to her psychiatrist every Saturday on her own.
  • The Swede has issues with the psychiatrist because the man thinks Merry is using the stuttering as a tool to manipulate her parents.
  • The psychiatrist tells the Swede that because he and Dawn are so good looking and so successful, there is undue pressure on Merry to make herself perfect, and that she stutters to control them.
  • The Swede argue that she stutters because "her brain is so quick, so much quicker than her tongue— " (3.134).
  • The psychiatrist just tells the Swede that he sees "lots of fathers who won't accept, who refuse to believe—" (3.134).
  • The Swede is furious. He knows his daughter isn't in control, that the stuttering is controlling her.
  • At the suggestion of her speech therapist, Merry keeps a "stuttering diary" (3.136), a neat and tidy record of her stuttering. When she stutters, where she stutters, and what words and letters she stutters over.
  • But no matter what she did, she can't stop the stuttering, and she struggles to communicate.
  • Time passes. She gets really big and stops keeping clean.
  • She won't eat at home, but she eats burgers, fries, BLTs, and milkshakes all the time when she's out.
  • At sixteen, she's almost six feet tall, and "her classmates nicknamed her Ho Chi Levov" (1.38).
  • (From what we gather, Minh was not tall; the nickname suggests that she talks about sympathizing with Minh to her classmates.)
  • She takes to cursing out political figures and speaking heatedly about politics, all with the stutter.
  • Lyndon Johnson (president of the US from 1963 to 1969, roughly, from the time Merry is eleven, to the time she is 17) is the guy she hates the most.
  • She holds him personally responsible for the war.
  • She screams at him when he comes on the news.
  • She says "You f-f-ucking madman! You heartless mi-mi-mi-miserable m-monster!" (3.139).
  • The Swede and Dawn tell her that she does have power to try to influence political figures.
  • But she is just too angry.
  • She also talks on the phone all the time, and she's forgotten about trying to control her stuttering.
  • Babies and children are dying in Vietnam, and her stuttering problem seems insignificant to her.
  • Merry's anger and her political discussions are driving Dawn nuts.
  • She can't stand it when Merry says "the Democratic Republic of Vietnam" (3.141).
  • The Swede defends Merry, saying she has "a political position" (3.141).
  • Dawn and Merry argue all the time.
  • Merry accuses her of caring more about the cows.
  • (More on the cows soon.)
  • Swede plays the mediator between them.
  • He tries to convince Dawn that this will all pass, that it's a phase.
  • Dawn thinks Merry needs more discipline.
  • The Swede thinks they need to keep being "reasonable" (3.143) and keep having conversations with her.
  • Eventually, she will outgrow this sixteen-year-old angry phase.
  • They just have to keep being there for her.
  • The Swede keeps talking to Merry, and she keeps trying to find out what she's up to.
  • He becomes alarmed when she starts spending lots of time in New York City.
  • (The next few pages of the novel cover a total of sixty seven conversations the Swede has with Merry about her trips to New York. We don't get all sixty seven conversations; but the ones we do get are numbered.)
  • Apparently, Merry is hanging out with people who are "against the war" (3.145) and brings home literature on Communism.
  • The Swede doesn't like her staying overnight in the city.
  • He encourages her to try to protest the war from home in Rimrock.
  • She says she doesn't like living in Rimrock anymore, and would rather live in New York.
  • He asks her if she wants to go to college in New York when high school is over.
  • She says she's not sure she still wants to go to college.
  • When Merry doesn't come home again on a Saturday night, the Swede presses her for details.
  • She says she's with friends, friends of her friend Sherry.
  • The Swede says if she's going to spend the night in the city she has to stay with the family friends the Umanoffs.
  • Not the Umanoffs, she says.
  • She says she stays with some people named Bill, 19, and Mellissa, 22. Friends of Sherry.
  • Merry says she has a responsibility to try to stop the war, and that is more important than her responsibilities as a daughter.
  • She can't believe the Swede and Dawn can sit passively by while people are dying.
  • Merry does stay at the Umanoffs, but doesn't like it. She wants to be with the young people.
  • This goes on and on until conversation number sixty seven.
  • In this conversation, the Swede again encourages Merry to be active against the war from here in Rimrock.
  • Merry doesn't buy it, but she does stop going to New York, permanently, from what the Swede can see.
  • And then she blows up the post office.
  • The general store attached to it is also blown up.
  • So is Dr. Fred Conlon.
  • The store belonged to Russ Hamlin, who "had raised the American flag every morning since Warren Gamaliel Harding was president of the United States" (3.156).

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...