Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 2, Chapter 5

By Philip Roth

Part 2, Chapter 5

  • The chapter begins with a letter dated September 1, 1973.
  • It begins, "Dear Mr. Levov" (5.1).
  • It says that Merry works at a "dog and cat hospital […] in the Ironbound Section of Newark" (5.2).
  • Merry (according to the letter) works there every day and gets off at around four in the afternoon.
  • The letter says not to tell Merry that the letter-writer told the Swede where to find her.
  • The letter writer says that until now he or she has done everything Merry told him or her to do.
  • The only time the letter writer has ever told Merry a lie is after the visit to the hotel room.
  • (Uh oh. As you've probably guessed, the letter must be from the Swede's old nemesis, Rita Cohen.)
  • The one lie Rita told Merry was that she and the Swede had sex.
  • If Rita hadn't told Merry she'd had sex with the Swede, Merry wouldn't have accepted the money from the Swede.
  • Rita only tormented the Swede to help Merry.
  • She loves Merry.
  • In the letter Rita says, "Your daughter is divine" (5.2).
  • The letter, in capital letters, warns the Swede not to tell Merry that Rita wrote the Swede a letter.
  • She says to make sure he isn't followed. She knows that Merry would die if the FBI got her.
  • Merry is now going by the name of Mary Stoltz.
  • The letter is signed, The Disciple Who Calls Herself "Rita Cohen" (5.3).
  • The Swede hadn't been expecting this. He never expects the unexpected.
  • He's been waiting five years for a letter like this, and now he's got it.
  • And now Dawn is finally better and is designing a new house for them to live in.
  • Things have calmed down.
  • How can the Swede let the horror back into their life.
  • Over the past five years, Dawn was hospitalized two times for "suicidal depression" (5.6).
  • He'd been afraid she'd be hospitalized for the rest of her life and that he'd be visiting her in hospitals for the rest of her life, bringing her flowers and trying to comfort her.
  • (Flashback time)
  • She's afraid all the time.
  • Sometimes she berates the Swede.
  • She says she never wanted this kind of life.
  • She wanted to be a music teacher in the public school system of her home town of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
  • Being Miss New Jersey was the worst thing she could have done.
  • She only entered the pageant in the first place to win money so her brother could go to college without her father paying for it.
  • Then the Swede was there, drooling over her, "This huge animal [she] couldn't get rid of!" (5.6).
  • She accuses him of turning her into "a princess" (5.7) and now she's crazy.
  • She gets mad at him like that, accuses him, makes up with him, and then gets angry the next night when he comes to visit.
  • The Swede, she says, and the Miss America Pageant had diverted her from "her real ambitions" (5.6).
  • She doesn't understand why everybody was so sure she'd be Miss America 1949.
  • It was and still is amazing to her that she won Miss New Jersey and then Miss Union County.
  • Dawn says she didn't know anything about make-up and hair styles like the other pageant girls.
  • For the Miss America pageant, she'd even had to learn to walk in a special way.
  • The whole Miss America business was so weird and crazy.
  • The only reason she married the Swede, she says, was because she wanted "something normal" (5.6).
  • The stupid beauty queen crown made her feel like a freak.
  • When the Swede drives home from visiting Dawn it makes him feel better to think of how it really was back then.
  • He remembers how much she loved being a contestant in the Miss America Pageant.
  • (Begin new flashback.)
  • The week Dawn is in Atlantic City, New Jersey for the pageant, in 1949, she and the Swede talk every night on the phone.
  • He's amazed at how excited she is about herself.
  • Maybe, she won't be happy with a guy like him, he thinks.
  • If she wins, all kinds of stars will be after her.
  • But, as her current boyfriend, the idea of her winning is exciting.
  • Sometimes they talk for as long as an hour, with Dawn filling him in on all the details.
  • The car she gets to keep if she wins, the hotel, her chaperone, the candy waiting in the room for her when she'd arrived, the meals and the crowds of people—all this she relates to the Swede in breathless excitement.
  • Dawn is sure she isn't going to win. She's sure it will be Miss Texas, no matter what the Swede says.
  • One of the judges seems to be really into her, and the Swede tells her he's sure she has it in the bag.
  • But Dawn doesn't win.
  • The winner is Jacque Mercer from Arizona.
  • She tells the Swede it was terrible having to go to the ball after the pageant, knowing she hadn't won the contest.
  • But for months afterwards all she talks about is the pageant.
  • It was the most exciting thing that had happened to her, and she didn't want to let it go.
  • (End flashback)
  • In 1969, when Dawn is in the hospital for the second time after Merry's disappearance, an invitation to the Miss America Reunion comes for Dawn.
  • Knowing how she currently feels about all of that, the Swede doesn't show her the invitation.
  • Soon after, something changes with Dawn. She decides to live again.
  • First, she decides she wants a face lift from a doctor she's read about in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Knowing that if Dawn is hospitalized again, they will probably give her electroshock therapy, he agrees to take her for the surgery, agrees to do anything that could possibly help her.
  • After the surgery she looks awful and can't stop vomiting. The Swede is afraid that the face lift is just the next step toward her eventual death.
  • But, (as usual), "He was totally wrong" (5.23).
  • Several days before the Swede gets the letter from Rita, he notices a letter on Dawn's desk next to an envelope.
  • It's from Dawn to the surgeon who did her face lift.
  • In the letter, she is thanking him for doing her surgery a year ago and for restoring her beauty.
  • Now, she has a new life.
  • Before that, just after her face is healed, Dawn decides she wants to build a new house on ten acres of the property. She wants to sell the big stone house and the hundred acres.
  • In 1969, the year after Merry's disappearance, they sold "the beef cattle and the farm machinery" (5.24).
  • The Swede is really hurt when he hears Dawn tell the architect Bill Orcutt, their neighbor, that "she always hated the house" (5.24).
  • He feels like she told the neighbor that she had always hated him, the Swede.
  • He takes a long walk and dreams about the house.
  • (Another flashback)
  • He falls in love with it the first time he sees it, when he was sixteen and spent lots of time trying to decide which girl to pick to live in it with him when he can eventually buy it.
  • At college in Upsala, he sees Dawn and begins to follow her around and crushing on her.
  • He knows he's really good looking, but he worries that because he's been a marine, and because he was engaged to a girl before, she might think he's "a beast of prey" and tell him to beat it.
  • So, it takes him a whole semester to ask her out.
  • He's also afraid that once he asks her out she'll be able to see his fantasy of her living with him in the old stone house with their daughter "Merry" (5.29).
  • (This is a bit of a confusing moment. It's not clear whether the Swede is inserting a dream of a daughter called Merry into his memory, or whether he actually dreamed of having a daughter named Merry before he asks Dawn out.)
  • (End flashback.)
  • The Swede understands why Dawn wants to sell the house, even though he doesn't discuss it with her.
  • She wants to sell it because it's full of memories of Merry.
  • Now, she's excited and happy planning the new house.
  • But it still irks him that she told Orcutt she'd always hated the house.
  • She even told him that the reason she'd gotten all the cows was to give her an excuse to stay out of the house she hated.
  • Hearing it made the Swede feel like he heard her confessing to cheating on him, to cheating on the house.
  • He feels like an idiot for loving the house and their life and thinking that she did, too.
  • If only they'd had more children, brothers and sisters for Merry to play with.
  • But Dawn hadn't wanted to have lots of kids, "she wanted to raise beef cattle" (5.32).
  • She wanted to dispel the impression that she was nothing more than a pretty face, an ex-beauty queen.
  • Even though she has a degree, she knows what people see. She hates being stared at and considered beautiful.
  • Plus, the women are threatened by her and think she is after their men.
  • Her grandfather had raised cattle, and she has always loved cows.
  • She doesn't want to raise cows for milk because that would require too many employees.
  • Breeding beef cattle, she decides, is the way to go, and so she studies up and makes a plan.
  • Dawn works really hard and invests lots of money.
  • She buys a bull called Count for ten thousand dollars.
  • He remembers Dawn and little Merry out together with Count and the other cows. They looked so happy.
  • The Swede supposes it doesn't matter if Dawn hated the house. He has so much, and he's willing to be strong for her to make her happy.
  • Whatever it takes, a hundred percent.
  • Besides, he knows it is just the memories of Merry that she can't take.
  • Happy memories of waking Merry up in the morning in her bed to help with the cows.
  • Memories of swimming with Merry, of Merry confiding in her about how mean the kids at school were.
  • Memories of Merry baking cookies, cooking baked ziti for dinner once a week to help her mother.
  • The Swede can't hate all those memories, and he can't hate the house!
  • He can't even hate Merry, even though he thinks it would be much easier if he could.
  • If only he could go back to the way things were before!
  • If only he could hate the house and Merry the way that Merry hated America.
  • The Swede loves America, but he'd been too afraid of Merry's reaction to try to explain it to her.
  • She would have despised him if she'd know how much he loves America.
  • (Another flashback, this one mingled with the Swede's present feelings on the day he gets the letter from Rita.)
  • He loves the way he'd gotten his all-American nickname "The Swede" on his first day of high school.
  • The nickname is all-American because it came from his gym teacher. The gym teacher calls him "Swede" and from then on so does everybody else.
  • He also loves the "American way" his father talks, the way he calls the people "Mac" and "Chief" (5.50).
  • He loves the feeling of victory when World War II is won by the Americans.
  • Who is Merry to spit on that, on those feelings?
  • During the final months of high school for the Swede, when he can't wait to join the Marines, he follows the war closely.
  • As The Swede wins games, the killing and the bombings and the battle go on, and America wins the war.
  • He loves being in boot camp when he joins the Marines.
  • His drill instructor calls him "Ee-oh," (5.52) dropping the "L" and the "v"s from his name.
  • He's eighteen, and he can't wait to fire a machine gun, "to fire the tank killer [and] the hand-held bazooka rocket" (5.52).
  • The Swede wants to show his patriotism and to show he's not afraid.
  • He wants "to help win the war" (5.52).
  • By the time he joins the Marines, the war is over.
  • Still, he loves boot camp, loves being in the Marines, loves the other Marines he meets.
  • Everything he loves is American, and now he doesn't have to be quiet about it to try to calm Merry's "ignorant hatred" (5.52).
  • For Merry, "being an American was loathing America, but loving America was not something [the Swede] could let go of" (5.53).
  • How could she despise what she knows nothing about?
  • How could she hate the system that allowed her parents to succeed?
  • Three generations of men had "slogged through the slime and stink of the tannery" (5.53).
  • They were poor and they struggled but Merry thinks they are "capitalist dogs" (5.23).
  • He loves everything she hates about America.
  • He loves Dawn.
  • He should tear up the stupid letter.
  • Rita Cohen and the gang are "back!" (5.54).
  • They toyed with him five years ago, and now they are back "to laugh" (5.54) again.
  • Rita's letter has to be a joke.
  • It would be worse if it wasn't.
  • Rita calling herself Merry's "Disciple" (5.54).
  • Rita and her gang hate the Levovs because they've made it, found success.
  • They've just been using Merry all along.
  • False revolutionaries.
  • Cowards.
  • They love watching the Levovs fall.
  • He thinks of Doc Conlon, dead because of their game.
  • (Another flashback.)
  • Dawn is "under sedation" after the Doc is killed in the bombing.
  • The Swede goes first to the Hamlins, the owners of the store and tells them how sorry he is.
  • Then he goes to Doc Conlon's wake and then visits his widow, one of the hardest things he's ever done in his life.
  • It must be incredibly hard for her, too, but she makes him tea and talks to him.
  • She says she doesn't blame him and Dawn, and she knows they are good parents.
  • Even if Merry is the bomber, she won't blame the Swede and Dawn.
  • She feels "badly" (5.55) for the Levovs because they have "lost a child," which is worse, she says, than losing a husband or a father.
  • But Rita and her gang don't care about doctors and community hospitals.
  • They've taken down a post office in the name of liberation.
  • The irony is that it wasn't even a real post office. It wasn't a government property.
  • "They were laughing at him. Life was laughing at him" (5.56).
  • For weeks after his visit with Mrs. Conlon, the Swede thinks about how sure she sounded that his family was destroyed, and it makes him wonder if there wasn't something besides "her kindness and her compassion" in her words.
  • It is the first and the last time he visits her.
  • (End flashback.)
  • (We are back to the day that the Swede gets the letter from Rita.)
  • So, the Swede is on a mission now.
  • He tells the secretary that he's headed for New York City to sort out some things for the trip he's planning to Czechoslovakia on business for Newark Maid.
  • He can see that it's cheaper now (in 1973) to make gloves in Czechoslovakia than Newark or Puerto Rico. (What used to be Czechoslovakia is now two states, Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1973 Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule.)
  • The Swede knows the factory in Newark can't last.
  • He explains it to Merry in his head in a sarcastic bitter tone.
  • He won't keep the factory in Newark out of fear she'll hate him for it.
  • Everybody has been waiting for this moment, for Merry to come back. The whole family has been waiting, all day, every day, for the past five years.
  • The Swede doesn't go to New York on business; that was just a cover in case someone comes looking for him.
  • He's actually headed for the dog and cat hospital.
  • By car, it's only ten minutes from the Newark Maid factory.
  • Has she been right here in Newark, this close, "for years?" (5.64).
  • It never ever crossed his mind that she was this close.
  • Why, he wonders, can't he ever guess what his daughter will do?
  • She's working in one of the worst places in America.
  • It's full of the ruins of Civil War factories (where guns and munitions were made): really dangerous factories people got mangled and killed working in.
  • At this point in time, the Swede feels like Newark is dead, and that this part of town is its "tomb" (5.65).
  • The factories here aren't burned out, because the rioters hadn't come back here.
  • The Swede's dad, Lou, used to pick up piecework from families that lived near here.
  • He remembers his father quizzing him constantly about the intricacies of the leather and leather-making when they would make the trips to distribute the leather and pick up the goods.
  • When the Swede actually gets to the dog and cat hospital, he knows that nobody lives in a neighborhood like this for long. They either leave or die.
  • He can't make the jump from Merry in Rimrock to Merry here.
  • The hospital is literally falling apart, and the Swede is struck with the loneliness of it all.
  • He thinks Merry, "My stupid, stupid Merry dear" (5.74), is just fighting against loneliness, and that nothing helps.
  • He thinks, "not all the bombing campaigns in history have made a dent in it" (5.74).
  • (Flashback.)
  • When Merry is two she tells her father, "I'm lonesome" (5.75).
  • He can't imagine where she heard such a sad word.
  • As she gets older, she can always talk to the Swede.
  • She talks to him a lot about how Dawn's getting on her case about too many things like what Merry takes to school for lunch.
  • When Merry's in the fifth grade, Merry gives Dawn an IOU-dinner every Saturday night.
  • And every Saturday night she makes baked ziti for Dawn and she does all the cleaning.
  • Once a month, he takes the family to Vincent's (which you probably remember from early in the novel) to eat Vincent's ziti.
  • Merry loved it.
  • She was loved and she was loving—the most loved and the most loving.
  • (End flashback.)
  • He waits almost an hour outside the hospital, and he would have waited all night, leaning against a lamppost in his expensive suit in one of the worst neighborhoods in town.
  • But he doesn't have to wait all night.
  • He sees a tall woman, but he would never, ever, have recognized her as Merry.
  • She must look pretty bad because the Swede starts freaking out inside.
  • No way can Dawn see this.
  • He wants to escape, but he can't just let her go, not when she's like this.
  • And then Merry sees him and it's too late to run, even if he could have.
  • He doesn't know what he would have run away to.
  • He'll never be the old Swede again. That life is gone.
  • Merry couldn't have missed him if she'd tried.
  • He is such a sharp contrast to the streets around him.
  • He's "the handsomest father a girl could have" (5.82).
  • Looking "frightful" she runs to him and throws her arms around him like when she was a kid.
  • She's wearing a veil across her mouth that looks like it's made from the foot of some panty hose.
  • Merry's saying "Daddy! Daddy!" (5.83).
  • "They are crying intensely, the dependable center whose center is the source of all order […] and the daughter who is chaos itself" (5.83).

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