Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 2, Chapter 4

By Philip Roth

Part 2, Chapter 4

  • Part 2 is called "The Fall." No, Roth isn't referring to the bleak Northern Irish serial killer drama. He's referring to Satan's fall from heaven.
  • Merry has been missing four months now.
  • Rita Cohen, who claims to be twenty-two but looks about eight, pays the Swede a visit.
  • The Swede thinks she's "dressed like Dr. King's successor, Ralph Abernathy, in freedom rider overcoat and ugly big shoes" (4.1.)
  • (Check out Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abernathy on a freedom ride.)
  • She has a "bush of wiry hair" (3.1) and "a bland baby face" (3.1).
  • It's hard for the Swede to believe she's really in college studying finance, and "doing a thesis on the leather industry in Newark, New Jersey."
  • It's even harder for him to believe she's the person who helped turn his daughter into a revolutionary.
  • Rita shows up at the factory one day, sneakily evading the FBI agents keeping watch and taking note of everyone who visits the Swede's office.
  • A few times a year someone writes asking for a tour of Newark Maid.
  • When the Swede's father Lou was running the company he was really into giving the tours, but the Swede doesn't enjoy it that much.
  • Still, from time to time, he'll personally give a student a tour.
  • If he knew that Rita wasn't really a student, but here about Merry, he definitely would not have agreed to a tour.
  • The Swede's office is in the middle of Newark Maid and surrounded by glass. This way, he can see what's going on, but has some privacy and relief from the sound of a couple hundred sewing machines.
  • When the Swede's Dad, Lou, was running the plant, he just put his desk in the middle of the floor, and he knew everything that was going on.
  • Lou loves gloves and loves the business, loves working, and loves worrying.
  • Worrying is one of Lou's keys to success.
  • Rita is in the Swede's office, and he's showing her a sheepskin.
  • She's asking lots of questions and writing down everything he says.
  • The Swede feels like the words coming out of his mouth as he talks about the glove industry are his father's words.
  • He's feeling really talkative, more talkative than he's felt since Merry disappeared.
  • As he watches little Rita taking notes and listening to him attentively, he remembers Merry as a third grader, touring the factory with her third grade class.
  • Seeing Rita, makes him feel like he is back in that wonderful time, the time before everything fell apart.
  • That's why he's feeling so talkative.
  • Soon, he tells Rita he's going to have a pair of gloves made for her right now.
  • He asks her what size gloves she wears, and she doesn't know.
  • Size four, he guesses, telling her that size four is the smallest size women's gloves come in.
  • He has her make a fist, and measures it. He's right. She wears a four.
  • Now, he takes her through the glove making process, narrating to her all the while.
  • She writes down everything he says and keeps asking questions.
  • He explains how he himself began as a glover, first by learning to cut leather from Harry, the Master cutter, the same man who's cutting the leather for Rita's gloves.
  • The Swede asks Rita, if she wants "black or brown, honey" (4.41).
  • She says brown.
  • He can't seem to stop calling her "honey" as he continues explaining each part of the process the gloves are going through, and she continues writing it all down.
  • She comments on how much he seems to love his work.
  • As the gloves are being made, and as the Swede is talking, he's thinking about Merry, thinking he's "half insane" (4.51) and that he's grieving.
  • With Rita, for the first time in a long time he feels relief from "this horrible riddle" (4.51) of his daughter.
  • He wishes he could find a way to make her stay there with him so he wouldn't have to think about Merry.
  • When the gloves are finished, he presents them to Rita and has her try them on.
  • They fit perfectly.
  • When they are alone in his office, Rita says, "She wants her Audrey Hepburn scrapbook" (4.52).
  • The day after that, the Swede goes to the Newark airport, meets Rita in the parking lot, and gives her the scrapbook.
  • The next week, he meets her there again and gives her Merry's ballet slippers and leotard.
  • A few days after that Rita demands, on Merry's behalf, the stuttering diary.
  • He begs Rita to let him see Merry or talk to her.
  • She says Merry doesn't want to see him and that she really hates him.
  • Rita says he exploits his workers in the Puerto Rico arm of Newark Maid, and that he exploits workers in countries outside the US.
  • For the first time, the Swede explodes with Rita, telling her he doesn't even have overseas factories, and that he doesn't exploit his workers. He tells her she doesn't know what she's talking about.
  • She compares him to a plantation owner, saying he's like Simon Legree in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
  • The Swede says he doesn't have any use for her silly talk, and he demands that she tell him where Merry is.
  • She says Merry never wants to see the Swede or Dawn again.
  • Rita says that Dawn's vanity almost ruined Merry.
  • The Swede tells Rita that Dawn "works a farm all day" (4.81).
  • According to Rita, Dawn's work is "fake," "upper-class" farming (4.82).
  • Rita accuses Dawn of having thrown a party for Merry to celebrate getting her period in order to humiliate her.
  • The Swede knows the party Rita is talking about, and says it was a birthday party, that it had nothing to do with Merry getting her period.
  • According to Rita, Dawn hates Merry because she isn't beauty queen-level beautiful.
  • Again, the Swede defends Dawn, saying that all her actions toward Merry have been out of love, care, and worry.
  • Again, he demands to know where Merry is, reminding her that a man is dead, and Merry has been accused of the murder.
  • Rita refuses to tell him and reminds him that people are dying "every few minutes" in Vietnam.
  • She tells the Swede that Merry is safe, among people who love her. The Swede, she says, doesn't own her.
  • The Swede really can't believe Rita, can't imagine how she came to be the way she is, so incredibly thoughtless about the needs of others.
  • It must be the excitement she loves, he decides.
  • Rita calls him a "capitalist criminal" (4.108).
  • Suddenly, he thinks that Rita is just some "criminally insane Jewish kid" (4.109) who heard about Merry in the papers.
  • Maybe she did a little investigating and pieced together her story by talking to students at Merry's school.
  • Before the post office was bombed, Merry had apparently told her classmates that "Quaint old Rimrock is in for a big surprise" (4.112).
  • After the bombing, Dawn was convinced of Merry's innocence, convinced either that she'd been kidnapped, or that she'd been tricked by someone.
  • She couldn't imagine her daughter involved with dynamite and blowing things up.
  • The Swede believes this, too.
  • He'd given Rita all the things she'd asked for, and now he's about to meet Rita at the New York Hilton to give her five thousand dollars in small unmarked bills.
  • Dawn had encouraged him to go through with it, convinced that he would get Merry back by giving the money.
  • He'd even added another five thousand to the money Rita had asked for.
  • In the hotel room, Rita is reclining on the bed, and she asks the Swede to have sex with her.
  • He wonders if Rita is the leader of some gang Merry had been roped into.
  • She asks him if he's attracted to her.
  • He asks her why she's putting him through all this.
  • She says she wants him to become aware of reality.
  • Now, Rita starts impersonating Merry, stuttering and asking the Swede to have sex with her.
  • The Swede explodes, and Rita tells him to calm down and have sex with her.
  • She flashes him her vagina and asks him to look at it.
  • She tells him it's a size four.
  • Eventually, the Swede can't take it anymore, and he runs from the room, leaving the money behind.
  • He calls the FBI but it's too late; she's gone with the money.
  • Then, "Five years pass" (4.165).
  • (This is the first a several mini-sections where the Swede discusses what it means that five years pass.)
  • The Swede waits five years for Rita Cohen to come back to Newark Maid to see him.
  • He has no proof of her existence; no fingerprint or photographs.
  • At the request of the FBI he works with a sketch artist, and they create a picture of her.
  • The Swede watches the news all the time.
  • "Bombs are going off everywhere" (4.165).
  • Across America, all sorts of places are being bombed, some of them nearby.
  • He's sure Rita is behind some of them, and he's sure they'll catch her, the other bombers, and Merry.
  • The Swede sits up late in the kitchen, waiting for Rita to come back.
  • There are more bombs, lots more bombs.
  • When Merry has been gone about two years the Swede sees something on the news.
  • Some people in Greenwich Village (part of New York City) go away on vacation.
  • While they are gone, a huge explosion destroys their house and two women, one in her late teens and one in her early twenties, come out of the house.
  • They are "naked, bruised, and lacerated" (1.168).
  • A neighbor gives them clothes, but when she leaves them alone, they run away.
  • One of the girls is "the twenty-five year old daughter of the owners of the townhouse […]" (4.168).
  • She is also "a member of the revolutionary faction of the Students for a Democratic Society called the Weathermen" (4.168).
  • They've been using the house to make bombs.
  • The Swede thinks the other girl is Rita.
  • No wait, he thinks it's Merry.
  • He waits for them, for Merry and "the girl Weatherman" (4.169).
  • There hasn't been anyone watching the house or Newark Maid for over a year.
  • So, it's totally safe for Merry to come home.
  • He starts making soup for them and thinking back to when Merry loved her mother's cows and wanted to be a veterinarian.
  • More young people involved in bombings and radical groups are found dead.
  • The Swede is sure that one unidentified girl is Merry.
  • But the next day, more bombs go off, but this time the bombers give warning and the building is evacuated.
  • The Swede thinks, "Merry is alive!"(4.172).
  • The parents of the townhouse girl are shown on the news.
  • They say their daughter said that she wanted "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 what Merry told the Swede and Dawn, too.
  • The parents of the other girl involved in the town house bombing come forward saying that they "know she is safe" (4.177).
  • Now, the Swede is mad.
  • These people's daughter definitely killed three people, and they get to know she's safe.
  • The Swede's daughter has been framed, and probably didn't kill anybody, and he doesn't get to know she's safe.
  • It's not fair.
  • He and Dawn are sure Merry is innocent because the kids at school said she'd bragged beforehand.
  • Merry is smarter than that. She never would have bragged.
  • (Now we come to the second section where the Swede explains the meaning of "five years pass" (4.178).
  • For five years, the Swede tries to understand what could have changed Merry so much.
  • Nothing quite makes sense until he remembers "the self immolation of the Buddhist Monks" (4.178) when Merry was eleven.
  • ("Self-immolation" means to light one's self on fire. Buddhist monks self-immolated to protest the South Vietnamese government of President Diem.)
  • (Flashback time again.)
  • Merry sees it on television, and it really freaks her out. She cries and cries.
  • The Swede is watching the news with her when it happens. He doesn't expect it any more than she does.
  • There on the television is a monk of about seventy-years-old.
  • He pours something flammable over himself.
  • Then he strikes a match and catches on fire.
  • The Swede, Dawn, and Merry watch in horror.
  • Yes, thinks the Swede. The monk has to be what did it.
  • Merry can't believe that a monk would have to do that to get people to pay attention.
  • For a whole week, Merry has to sleep with Dawn and the Swede because she is so disturbed.
  • But then, when she seems to have gotten over the event, more and more monks self-immolate, and Merry watches it all.
  • But the Swede is worried because Merry seems less frightened by the monks, and more "curious" (4.184).
  • Afraid of what might be going on in her head, he tries to distract her, and eventually when the immolations finally stopped, she seems to forget.
  • When The Swede hears that Diem is assassinated, he doesn't tell Merry; as far as he can tell, she doesn't even remember Vietnam exists.
  • (End flashback.)
  • Even when she herself becomes a political protester, she doesn't talk about the monks to the Swede.
  • What happened with the monks in 1963 doesn't seem to have anything to do with what happens to Merry in 1968.
  • (Now begins the third section where the Swede discusses what it means that "Five years pass" (4.184).
  • A young woman named Angela Davis, a professor at UCLA, and civil rights activist is charged with "kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy" (4.188) in connection with an attempt to break some men out of jail.
  • There are worldwide protests over Davis' charges, and lots of people believe she's been framed.
  • Angela Davis' hair reminds the Swede of Rita.
  • The Swede becomes obsessed with Angela Davis.
  • He thinks he saw some of Davis' writing in Merry's things before she left.
  • The FBI took all of Merry's books and papers, so he can't be sure.
  • He knows Merry would have outgrown this revolutionary stuff like she did everything else.
  • If only she had waited.
  • She was always so impatient.
  • The Swede begins fantasizing that Davis comes to his kitchen. He fantasizes the conversations he has with her.
  • She tells him that "everything he's heard about Communism is a lie" (4.192) and that he needs to go to Cuba to learn the truth.
  • She listens patiently to everything he tells her.
  • "She tells him that Imperialism is a weapon used by wealthy whites to pay black workers less for their work" (4.192).
  • The Swede tells Angela Davis about Vicky, the forelady in charge of Newark Maid. She is black and the Swede doesn't exploit her.
  • During the 1967 riots in Newark, Vicky had stayed with the Swede in the building and put up signs in the windows saying "Most of this factory's employees are n****es" (4.195).
  • Someone (the Swede thinks it was the Newark police) shot out each of the windows that held a sign.
  • After the riots, the Swede still stayed in Newark. He thought that if he didn't, Merry would accuse him of hurting his black workers (she hasn't dropped the bomb yet).
  • Even his father wanted him to get out of Newark, but because of Merry he just can't.
  • He tells this to Angela Davis, hoping to gain her sympathy so she can help him find his daughter.
  • He even fibs a little and tells her that he attends meetings all around the city for the cause of liberation.
  • Everything he thinks Angela want to hear, he tells her.
  • Then he thinks that he should have had sex with Rita Cohen. He should have done it so Rita would take him to Merry. He should have done whatever was necessary.
  • (By the way, Davis was found innocent of all charges).
  • (And now we come to the final section where the Swede explains what some more of what he means by, "'Five years pass'" (4.203))
  • What we've heard so far is only, "A very tiny part" (4.203) of what happens over the five years since Merry's disappearance.
  • Everything he sees reminds him of his missing daughter.
  • It takes a year for them to rebuild the store destroyed in the blast.
  • Everyone in town, including the Swede, has to drive all the way to Morristown to buy milk, stamps, even a newspaper.
  • There is a little school house across the street from where the store and post office used to be.
  • The children and the teachers see the blank space for over a year.
  • Tourists come to look at it.
  • The Swede even gets "anti-Semitic mail" (4.203).
  • He hears gossip about his daughter, his family.
  • There is a community club bulletin board on the street near where the store used to be.
  • Tacked to it is, "An editorial recording the tragedy and commemorating Dr. Conlon" (4.203).
  • The Swede wants to take it down, but knows he can't.
  • Another article tacked to the board is titled, "Distance Heals all Wounds," (4.203) and it's by the minister of the First Congregational Church. It's a sermon.
  • The final article tacked to the board is an interview with Edgar Bartley.
  • Edgar and Merry had been to the movies together.
  • In the article Edgar is said to be Merry's boyfriend.
  • Edgar has only nice things to say about Merry in the article.
  • He's quoted as saying, "I only hope we can find her so that she can get the help she needs" (4.204).
  • The Swede is really, really glad nobody had tacked up the article called "Suspected Bomber is Described as Bright, Gifted but with "Stubborn Streak" (4.204).
  • There were awful stories about Merry in all the papers, but somehow this one hits the Swede harder than all the others.
  • That one he would have had to tear down.
  • In the article some of the teachers have nice things to say about Merry.
  • Some students are quoted as saying she had some anger issues, and she was upset about the Vietnam War.
  • (It's not quite clear to us why the Swede objects so much to this particular article. The article is reproduced in the novel, 4.205-4.219. Read it and see what you think.)
  • Then a new store is built, McPherson's Store.
  • It's actually an improvement over the old one.
  • Dawn can't go in there, but the Swede makes a point to use the store, just as he had used the old one.
  • On the outside, nothing has changed for the Swede.
  • Inside everything is awful. Everything haunts him. He can't sleep and can't stop punishing himself.
  • He wonders if the kiss he gave Merry when she was eleven could possibly be the cause. He wonders, in agony, if anything is the cause.
  • He decides all he can do is keep up the outer façade and keep on suffering inside.

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