Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 2, Chapter 6

By Philip Roth

Part 2, Chapter 6

  • Chapter Six begins with the statement, "She had become a Jain" (6.1).
  • The Swede doesn't know what a Jain is until Merry tells him, without stuttering.
  • She tells him that the Jains are "a relatively small Indian [as in India] religious sect" (6.1).
  • He believes that much, but he doesn't know how much of Merry's Jainism is typical, and how much she's come up with herself.
  • The veil she wears is supposed to stop her from hurting "the microscopic organisms […] in the air" (6.1).
  • She doesn't take baths so she can't hurt the water.
  • By denying all pleasure and by practicing "ahimsa or nonviolence" she can become a "'perfected soul'" (6.2).
  • She has her vows taped up on index cards near where she sleeps on a dirty mat.
  • Merry looks like she's starving to death, literally.
  • Her room is tiny and filthy, and there are homeless people living in filth in the hallway outside of her room.
  • The trains are to be heard rolling overhead.
  • To get to her house, you have to go through one of the most dangerous underpasses in the world.
  • They have to walk because she doesn't believe in using motor vehicles.
  • A century ago the building where Merry's room is was a good boarding house.
  • Now it's wreckage.
  • He can't believe that after three generation of immigrants had made the Levovs a successful family, it all falls apart with the fourth generation child.
  • There aren't any windows in Merry's room.
  • The Swede is furious when he sees her filthy hallway.
  • He thinks that she would have lived better if she were one of Dawn's cows.
  • He thinks of what it would do to Dawn to see this room.
  • Now, he reads Merry's vows on the wall.
  • She renounces killing, angry speech and lying, "taking anything not given" (6.9), sex, and becoming attached to things.
  • Again, he starts trying to figure out where he went wrong.
  • Was it the kiss?
  • It couldn't be that.
  • Maybe, the mistake was in taking her too seriously. Maybe, he should have slapped her instead, he thinks.
  • If he had smacked her, then he could understand this, the veil, the filth.
  • This isn't real, he thinks.
  • But it is.
  • Merry is filthy and smelly and veiled, "a scarecrow" (5.26) in rags.
  • He'd rather she was angry and stuttering than this. He liked her better before.
  • She says she's been in Newark for six months.
  • The Swede is stunned: six whole months.
  • He's really mad and wishes he could disappear.
  • At the same time, how can he go sleep in his comfortable bed knowing she's here?
  • He wants to grab her and take her away.
  • She's been a Jain about a year.
  • Since she considers eating vegetables killing, she eats just enough to stay alive and is incredibly thin.
  • She found out about Jainism from books in the library, and she attends no church.
  • Her voice is a monotone.
  • The Swede is telling her he doesn't understand how this has happened.
  • Without stuttering, she explains her religious beliefs.
  • When the Swede asks if she is responsible for post office bomb, she admits it easily.
  • He asks her who put her up to it, and she says it was Lyndon Johnson.
  • Convinced that people made her do it, he presses her.
  • She says it was her own idea.
  • The Swede tells her he thinks that she's living this way because she's afraid of having to face the punishments for her crimes.
  • He tells her she's going to wind up dead living this way.
  • When the Swede asks Merry who Rita Cohen is, she says she doesn't know.
  • She's says she's never sent anyone to talk to the Swede about her.
  • He's exploding inside from the craziness of it all.
  • She tells him where she's been since she left Rimrock.
  • (Flashback time again!)
  • Right after the bombing she hides for two days in the home of her speech therapist Sheila Salzman.
  • Then she goes underground.
  • In about sixty days she has fifteen false names and doesn't stay in a single place for even a week.
  • She gets a birth certificate of a baby who died young; the name of the baby is Merry Stoltz.
  • Using the birth certificate Merry gets a social security card and a driver's license in that name.
  • In Chicago, on her way to a commune in Portland, Merry is raped and robbed.
  • The loneliness is worse than ever in Chicago and every day she considers calling Rimrock.
  • She's raped a second time before leaving for Oregon.
  • The Swede learns that, "In Oregon she was involved in two bombings" (6.159).
  • He asks her how many people besides Doc Conlon died from her bombs.
  • She tells him she's killed three people.
  • At the commune Merry learns to build bombs, and this is what finally makes the stuttering disappear.
  • Merry's been having a sexual relationship with a married woman there, and when there's a problem with the woman's husband, Merry has to leave.
  • At another hideout, this one at an Idaho potato farm, Merry decides to go to Cuba. She thinks she'll "be able to live among the workers without having to worry about violence" (6.172).
  • By this time, she decides that "there could never be a revolution in America" (6.172).
  • She thinks that in Cuba she can be herself and start a new life. At night, she studies Spanish.
  • More "sexual incidents" (6.172) occur.
  • For about a year, she tries to arrange to go to Cuba.
  • In Miami, she teaches English to refugees in the park and is almost caught by an FBI agent.
  • She always thinks FBI agents are on her trail, but this time it's for real.
  • The second time she sees the FBI agent in the park she runs away.
  • When she sees "a blind black woman begging in the street" (6.174), she stops.
  • Merry hides in the woman's coat, which is on the pavement.
  • The woman agrees to help her, and Merry puts on the coat and helps the woman beg.
  • Soon after, Merry begins to study religion.
  • Merry lives with the woman, Bunice, until Bunice gets cancer and dies.
  • Around this time, she takes up Jainism and nonviolence.
  • The Swede can't imagine any of this happening to his daughter.
  • He can't imagine that she's wearing a panty-hose veil, and that she's been living just ten minutes away from Newark Maid for the past six months.
  • He can't believe she's been raped, that she's made bombs, that she's killed four people.
  • So he tells her she's not his daughter.
  • She says she is.
  • He asks her why she doesn't ask about Dawn.
  • Merry says she doesn't want to talk about her mother.
  • The Swede asks her to prove she's his daughter, and she says some of the answers to his questions will hurt him.
  • Answer them anyway, he tells her.
  • He wants to know why she's pretending to be Merry, and who Rita Cohen is.
  • Losing it, the Swede explodes, telling her that this way of life is wrong and demanding that she tell him where the real Merry is, demanding she tell him the truth.
  • After crying her name, he tears the veil off of her face and demands that she speak to him without it.
  • She closes her mouth tightly, and he tries to pry open her mouth.
  • When he gets her mouth open, he grabs her tongue.
  • One of her front teeth is gone.
  • This pleases him because it mean she can't be Merry. Merry has had perfect dental care, and has perfect teeth.
  • Again, he demands that she speak, and suddenly he smells how bad she smells.
  • It's so gross that he throws up "onto her face" (6.196), screaming "Who are you!" (6.196).
  • He looks at her and knows it's her. Her eyes give her away. Those are his daughter's eyes.
  • The Swede starts backing away, and she watches him.
  • He asks her to come with him; she tells him to go.
  • She says if he loves her, he'll leave her alone.
  • All the Swede can think about are the rapes.
  • The rape of a daughter is the worst thing he can imagine.
  • To learn of three more people dead, to learn their names and who they were—the Swede just can't believe it.
  • The rape is the only thing he can actually imagine. Thinking of the rape blocks all the other stuff out.
  • So he thinks about it, wants to know who they are. He wants to find out who they are from Merry and "kill them!" (6.209)
  • But he knows it's too late.
  • How can she live this way?
  • A few days later the Swede is back at Newark Maid, back at his desk.
  • Nobody is in the factory but the Swede.
  • There's a night watchman in the parking lot.
  • When the Swede comes to work every day he knows he has to leave.
  • There are no more factories in Newark.
  • This quiet is worse than the 1967 riots, the chaos, the constant sirens, the looting.
  • He and Vicky the forewoman stayed in the factory to protect the family business, amidst explosions and gunfire and screaming.
  • The Swede doesn't "abandon" Newark Maid, and after the riots he doesn't abandon his workers.
  • And Merry is still raped.
  • He can't stop picturing it in his mind, hearing Merry's cries, hearing the laughing of her attackers.
  • The urge to do something to stop them is overwhelming because it's way too late to do anything.
  • He remembers how cute and perfect she was as a baby.
  • Other than the stuttering she was a completely normal kid.
  • How could this happen?
  • The Swede decides to call his brother Jerry (remember him from the beginning of the novel?).
  • He knows that Jerry is probably not the best person to call for comfort, but Jerry is the only brother he has.
  • It's Friday afternoon, about five p.m.
  • Jerry's in his office and has patients waiting, but he says he can talk.
  • The Swede tells him Merry's story.
  • Jerry asks the Swede what he's going to do.
  • He tells Jerry that Merry's admitted to killing Conlon and bombing the post office, but he can't tell Jerry about the other three deaths.
  • In Jerry's opinion, The Swede should forcibly remove Merry from that room.
  • The Swede wants to know what he's supposed to do after he forces Merry to come home.
  • Then he tells Jerry about the other three murders and that Merry was raped.
  • Jerry's not surprised. This is just what he'd expected to happen to Merry.
  • If the Swede doesn't go get her, she's going to get raped again.
  • If the Swede loves her, he'll go get her.
  • He tells Jerry that he does love her; Jerry says he loves her like a possession, not like a person.
  • Jerry says the Swede is afraid to "make a scene" (6.241), afraid of letting everybody see what Merry has become.
  • Jerry is on the attack now, accusing the Swede of "always trying to smooth everything over" (6.242), about being too concerned with appearances.
  • Jerry says that Merry blew polite appearances all to hell.
  • The Swede wants to hang up, but knows he'll be alone if he does, and he won't know if Jerry has anything helpful to tell him.
  • Jerry goes on and on, stabbing away at the Swede with words.
  • He claims that the Swede keeps everything inside, that he hides himself from the world under a disguise of perfection, that he follows all the rules too closely, that he's not real.
  • This is why Merry did what she did, Jerry says.
  • He says that the Swede doesn't know anything about anything, and that the Swede lives in his "old man's dream world […] up there with Lou Levov in glove heaven" (6.256).
  • Jerry tells the Swede, "You want Miss America? Well, you've got her, with a vengeance—she's your daughter!" (6.258).
  • If the Swede really loved his daughter, he wouldn't have left her there in the awful room.
  • The Swede is crying now.
  • He tries to explain how hard it was for him to leave Merry there.
  • Still crying, the Swede tries to defend himself. This isn't his fault.
  • Nobody could deal with this situation.
  • He tells the Swede to forget about Merry, to admit that Merry hates her father and then forget about her.
  • Then he offers to go get Merry. He says she won't mess with him the ways she's been messing with the Swede.
  • The Swede says no; he doesn't want Jerry to go get Merry.
  • Jerry doesn't understand.
  • Jerry lays into him a little more and then says he has patients waiting.

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