Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 3, Chapter 7

By Philip Roth

Part 3, Chapter 7

This last part, Part 3, is called Paradise Lost. Yup, like John Milton's Paradise Lost.

  • That summer (the summer of 1973) the Levovs watch the Watergate hearings from the back porch of their Rimrock home.
  • When Dawn still had the cows and they still had Merry, they would sit out here watching the herd.
  • In the mornings, Merry and Dawn would get up early to herd them.
  • Lou and Sylvia, the Swede's parents, have been here at the Rimrock house for about a week for a late summer vacation.
  • Dawn spends most of her time away from the Rimrock house, working on planning the new house.
  • Lou and Sylvia watch the Watergate hearings during the day and then again at night.
  • Lou writes letters to public officials and reads them to the family at dinner.
  • The letter writing has been going on for a long time.
  • When Merry began to get upset about the Vietnam War, Lou had begun mailing her the letters he writes, his own protests against the war.
  • He hopes Merry will channel her own anger into letter writing.
  • Merry doesn't buy it. She and Lou have lots of arguments about it.
  • She just doesn't believe letter writing works.
  • He tells Merry she can even join "the other side" (7.29), fight for a foreign army against the United States, even though she would be called a traitor, like Benedict Arnold.
  • Nothing Lou says does any good.
  • But he persists. He sees something bad about to happen with Merry, and he doesn't stop trying.
  • When the Swede gets home [after his visit with Merry and the call to Jerry] there aren't any messages for him.
  • Dawn's in the kitchen making salad.
  • When he comes out on the porch with his drink his mother and father are there.
  • His mother asks if he's going to grill some steak.
  • He says, "Steak, corn, salad, and Merry's big beefsteak tomatoes" (7.45).
  • Uh. Oh. He didn't mean to say "Merry." He meant to say "Dawn."
  • It gets Sylvia started talking about Merry and what a good girl she was.
  • She starts getting sad, and the Swede reminds her not to talk about Merry or get sad in front of Dawn.
  • She agrees, but then asks if he thinks Merry is in Canada, like the men who dodged the draft.
  • The Swede asks if she'll please save the questions for a time when Dawn isn't around.
  • He tells his mother that Merry might not want to see any of them anymore.
  • Lou can't accept this. He says she's just a sixteen year old girl who needs help.
  • The Swede reminds him that Merry is twenty one.
  • He thinks that it would be worse for them to see her the way he had seen her than never to see her at all.
  • They talk about Merry for a little while longer.
  • Looking at his mother, who has gotten tiny, he realizes how much Merry's disappearance has hurt her.
  • (Flashback.)
  • When she arrives at the Swede's house the week before, she's upset about a letter with money that Lou wants her to mail to Jerry's latest, soon-to-be second ex-wife.
  • Lou already sent her money once; the woman told Jerry and Jerry flipped out, nearly giving Lou a heart attack.
  • Sylvia doesn't want the same thing to happen again; she's afraid it will kill Lou.
  • Jerry was always so angry, she tells him.
  • She talks about the time Jerry made a hamster-skin coat.
  • The Swede advises her to just mail the letter and not get involved.
  • She says that the Swede is the only one she can turn to, the only one who has any sense.
  • (End Flashback)
  • Now the topic switches to Dawn's face lift.
  • Lou says the surgeon did a great job of taking the grief from her face.
  • Sylvia says it couldn't get rid of the pain inside.
  • Lou starts talking about Richard Nixon, the same way Merry talked about Johnson.
  • Soon Lou gets really loud and Dawn comes running in to see if something is wrong.
  • Suddenly, they are all four crying together and they seem to the Swede more destroyed than ever.
  • All it took was for him to slip and say "'Merry's […] tomatoes' instead of "Dawn's' for them to sense that something […] awful has happened" (7.117).
  • On top of Lou and Sylvia, there are six dinner guests. The architect, Bill Orcutt, and his wife, Jessie, show up first. They live down the road from the Swede and Dawn.
  • The Orcutt family has been in the area forever and has in it many prominent lawyers, judges, and other politicians.
  • (Flashback.)

  • When the Levovs first move into the area, when Merry is still a baby, Orcutt offers to give them a tour of the town.
  • Dawn doesn't like him, the way he acts like he owns the whole area. She thinks he's looking down on them.
  • But the Swede thinks Orcutt's okay and goes with him for the tour.
  • The tour lasts all day. The first Orcutt came to the area in the 1770s (a hundred years before Lou Levov's father comes to America.)
  • The first Orcutt was from Ireland (like Dawn's family).
  • Lou had pressured the Swede to buy a house in the suburbs instead of the old house in the country. But the old house is what the Swede wants.
  • It makes him feel free and very American.
  • It's a huge old house on a hundred acres of land, expensive.
  • Lou doesn't understand why the Swede would want it.
  • Plus, he tells the Swede that this is Ku Klux Klan country, white racist America, not a good place for Jews.
  • Much better to get a place in the suburbs with nice Jewish people around him.
  • Nothing Lou says makes the Swede change his mind about the house.
  • He's experienced anti-Semitism and prejudice, but Dawn and Lou have it wrong.
  • They'll blend in just fine out here.
  • Orcutt isn't really in their life after the tour, so he doesn't really have to defend him to Dawn.
  • They never really got social.
  • Once the Swede does go to Orcutt's for a Saturday game of touch football.
  • A guy named Bucky Robinson is at the game, a Jewish guy from the Swede's old neighborhood.
  • He tries to get the Swede to attend the Morristown synagogue every time he sees him.
  • This gets under the Swede's skin in the same way it did when his mother wanted Dawn to convert to Judaism when Merry was born.
  • He tells her he doesn't even care about "practicing Judaism" (7.142)—why would he ask Dawn to convert?
  • Dawn tells him that Bucky Robinson isn't trying to get the Swede to think about God, just trying to make friends.
  • Well, he tells her, he just isn't interested.
  • What he's interested in is the Rimrock house, their "piece of America" (7.143).
  • He would never tell anybody, but being out here and having this house is like being Johnny Appleseed.
  • Johnny Appleseed, the Swede thinks, "Wasn't a Jew, wasn't an Irish Catholic, wasn't a Protestant Christian—nope, Johnny Appleseed was a just a happy American" (7.145). Not too smart. Loves walking. Walks around throwing his seeds everywhere.
  • The Swede has always loved the story, and Merry loves it too.
  • She wants to know who "told him to" (7.145) throw the seeds.
  • At night, she begs the Swede to tell it to her.
  • He tells her that Johnny decides to plant apple seeds on his own; nobody told him to.
  • When she asks if Johnny has a wife and kid, he says his wife is Dawn Appleseed, and his kid is Merry Appleseed.
  • Merry Appleseed throws apple seeds, too, and they grow into big apple trees.
  • On weekends, the Swede puts on his boots and walks the five miles into Rimrock, loving every minute of it.
  • When he gets into town he has coffee at Hamlin's store and buys the paper.
  • At the back of the store is a little post office window and rows of post office boxes.
  • Across the street is a six-room schoolhouse. This is will be Merry's first school.
  • Kids are sitting on the steps of the store. It seems so perfect for the Swede.
  • He buys milk and whatever else they need and then walks the five miles back.
  • As he walks back, he pretends he's throwing apple seeds.
  • Once Dawn sees him from the upstairs window.
  • When he comes in looking all handsome, she teases him, asking if he's been taking ballet in town.
  • Other than two prostitutes when he was a Marine, the Swede didn't have sex with the girls he'd dated.
  • His passion all comes out with Dawn.
  • Dawn tells him that she likes feeling like she's "sleeping next to an enormous rock" (7.147).
  • After they have sex, she usually cries.
  • He isn't sure why.
  • When he asks she says it's not because he's hurting her, but because it triggers strong emotions.
  • They have a really great sex life.
  • It's great for years.
  • Until the bomb and Dawn's hospitalizations.
  • After Dawn leaves the hospital, there's less and less sex.
  • (End flashback)
  • Orcutt's grandfather was a partner in a prestigious law firm. Orcutt's wife is the granddaughter of one of the other partners.
  • Orcutt was supposed to be a lawyer. But when he graduates from Princeton, he becomes an artist instead of going to Harvard to study law.
  • He's not very successful.
  • After three years, he marries Jessie and goes back to college to study architecture.
  • He still paints and has exhibits every few years.
  • (Flashback)
  • The Levovs are always invited, and they always attend.
  • The Swede finds it really uncomfortable to look at Orcutt's art.
  • Most of the pictures look like "nothing" (7.148).
  • Dawn thinks they are "thought provoking" (7.148), but the Swede can't see it. The paintings are like blurs, without visible shapes or figures.
  • When one of those pictures of nothing is suddenly up on the wall in the Levov living room, about a month after Dawn's face lift, "things [get] a little sad for the Swede" (7.149).
  • The painting is of brown streaks.
  • Dawn thinks it's really something, and she buys it for five thousand dollars.
  • She puts the painting up where a beautiful portrait of Merry at six used to be.
  • Lou thinks Orcutt's painting looks like "it ain't finished" (7.151).
  • The Swede defends Dawn's choice and later explains to his father that it doesn't really matter how bad the picture is as long as it makes Dawn happy.
  • (End flashback.)
  • This is the Orcutt who's designing their new house.
  • After dinner, he's going to show everybody the model, which is out in his van.
  • Dawn has all kinds of blueprints and designs in her study, too.
  • The Orcutts had come over early to solve the problem of how to link the house to the garage.
  • Orcutt had been away, and Dawn wants it handled immediately.
  • Sometimes Dawn thinks his ideas are snobbish, but they always come up with a solution she likes.
  • Orcutt brings the model in from the van and some tile samples.
  • He goes into the kitchen to show it to Dawn.
  • He's still in there talking to her about the house while she cooks and shucks the corn the Orcutts brought along for the dinner.
  • The Orcutts have five kids, all away at college now.
  • When they left, Jessie Orcutt started drinking and has been drinking heavily ever since.
  • She used to be pretty and fresh, but now, at fifty four, she's "a haggard old woman" (7.157) who stays at home most of the time drinking.
  • Jessie is drunk and talking to Lou Levov.
  • He's talking to her condescendingly, asking questions that keep her rambling on uncomfortably about horses from her childhood.
  • At one point, Lou takes her hand and holds it.
  • She continues talking about horses, growing sad at a memory of going to school away from her family when she was thirteen.
  • She's crying on his shoulder.
  • This makes Swede almost cry about a memory of Merry when she was six.
  • Instead, he decides to go find Orcutt so he can tell him Jessie is having problems.
  • He goes around to the back door of the kitchen.
  • Orcutt has on a Hawaiian shirt and "raspberry-colored linen pants" (7.180).
  • None of the flashiness of his clothes goes into his painting, that's for sure.
  • The Swede can see this through the glass at the top of the door.
  • He doesn't know why he's looking through the glass, why he didn't just go through.
  • It looks like Orcutt is showing Dawn how to shuck corn, or helping her shuck corn.
  • She's leaned over the sink, and Orcutt is leaning over her.
  • Aha! The Swede realizes. This is why Dawn is always saying bad things about Orcutt.
  • To keep him from being suspicious of their affair!
  • Now, he understands why Jessie Orcutt drinks.
  • He turns from the scene and goes back out to the terrace.

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