Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 3, Chapter 8

By Philip Roth

Part 3, Chapter 8

  • It's dinnertime, and it's getting dark really slowly. It seems to him that the evening will never end.
  • Like he's crawled into it to die.
  • They are on the terrace.
  • Marcia and Barry Umanoff, and Sheila and Shelly Salzman are also at the dinner.
  • Sheila was Merry's speech therapist.
  • On this same day, just hours ago, the Swede learns from Merry that Sheila had hidden her for two days after the bombing.
  • The Salzmans have never breathed a word of this to the Swede.
  • How different everything could be if they had only called him when she arrived at their place.
  • But he can't see quite exactly how things would have been different.
  • He sits there paralyzed at dinner, trying not to think of Merry.
  • And trying not to think of Dawn.
  • But these are the only things he can think about.
  • And he'll have to do this forever; stay here at dinner trying not to think about those things.
  • "Otherwise the world would explode" (8.1).
  • Barry Umanoff was in high school with the Swede, and he's the Swede's closest friend from those days.
  • Barry teaches law at Columbia University and is the son of a Jewish tailor.
  • Lou loves Barry and whenever he and Sylvia are in from Florida, Barry and Marcia come to dinner.
  • When Merry had begun spending time in New York, she'd stayed with the Umanoffs a few times.
  • (Flashback alert!)
  • After the bombing, the Swede goes to Barry for legal advice.
  • Barry takes him to Schevitz, another lawyer.
  • Schevitz says that the worst thing that could happen to Merry is seven to ten years in jail.
  • But, he tells the Swede, they don't even know if Merry is guilty, or if she acted alone.
  • Maybe it was an accident.
  • She could get a lighter sentence if it was done "in the passion of the antiwar movement" (8.3).
  • They don't know anything. They don't have any details.
  • If they treat Merry as a juvenile, the worst she could get is about three years in jail.
  • That talk with Schevitz used to give the Swede some hope, but now he's heard the truth from Merry herself.
  • Marcia Umanoff is "a militant nonconformist," and she knows just how to make the people around her feel uncomfortable.
  • She teaches literature in New York.
  • A big woman, messy, not that attractive, very outspoken.
  • Barry loves her.
  • The Swede could understand all of this if Merry was the daughter of Marcia.
  • Marcia who has been in jail several times for protesting the war.
  • It's hard to understand how Barry married her.
  • She's an intellectual who likes to act superior and antagonize people.
  • The Swede tolerates her, but Dawn despises her; she knows Marcia doesn't like her because she was once Miss New Jersey.
  • Dawn had explained that she'd entered the pageant to win money to help pay for her brother's college education after her father had a heart attack.
  • But Marcia still makes fun of it.
  • Marcia doesn't hide her disdain for Dawn.
  • Dawn doesn't even want Marcia in the house, but the Swede says they can't invite Barry and not Marcia.
  • Dawn thinks Marcia was the one hiding Merry, the person who is helping her live underground.
  • The Swede doesn't ever buy that it was Marcia.
  • He was right; it wasn't Marcia.
  • It was Merry's pretty speech therapist, Sheila Salzman, the only mistress the Swede has had.
  • They had an affair for the first four months after Merry disappeared.
  • Dinner conversation centers around Watergate and Deep Throat, an X rated movie that was very controversial at the time.
  • Lou keeps getting on the topic of gloves, too, and Sylvia tries to stop him. Lou is still sitting next to Jessie Orcutt but he's mostly talking to Bill.
  • Bill doesn't think there's anything wrong with X-rated movies.
  • Lou says that kids are going to see those movies.
  • Shelly Salzman, husband of Sheila, says that he thinks it's "adolescents" (8.46), not kids.
  • The Swede can't believe Salzman helped hide his daughter from him, and from the FBI; Shelly is always so nice.
  • Shelly is the person the Swede went to when Dawn wanted the face lift.
  • He'd advised the Swede to do it if that's what Dawn wanted and had told him the doctor in Switzerland was safe.
  • This was after the Swede's affair with Sheila, and the Swede had had an urge to confess.
  • Shelly is telling Lou that it doesn't really matter if he, Shelly, approves of Deep Throat.
  • Sylvia tells Lou to stop "monopolizing the conversation" (8.54), and then Dawn and Marcia start fighting a bit, and Dawn walks out.
  • Marcia is on one side of Lou, and Jessie is on the other.
  • Lou has moved Jessie's drink to where she can't reach it and is trying to make her eat.
  • The Swede is thinking about Sheila.
  • He just can't understand how she kept it from him.
  • Is everybody as easily fooled as he is?
  • He thinks Sheila's an "icy b****" (8.70).
  • Suddenly, he's asking Lou if he wants more steak.
  • Lou does want steak, so he can try to make Jessie eat it.
  • Then the Swede's trying to help his father see that Shelly just doesn't take Deep Throat very seriously.
  • With all that's happened today, he can't believe he's playing the middle man between his father and Shelly.
  • Marcia is making fun of Lou's concern.
  • Orcutt takes Lou's side, saying, "And what is wrong with decency?" (8.82).
  • Not able to look at Orcutt, the Swede wonders what it is Dawn finds attractive in him.
  • Now, he can't stop thinking of Merry being raped and of Dawn having sex with Orcutt.
  • The argument about Deep Throat and decency is still going on.
  • Marcia and Dawn are antagonizing each other. Marcia is antagonizing Lou.
  • Orcutt is talking about "morality" (8.135)—Orcutt, the guy who puts the finishing touches on destroying the Swede's family.
  • Now, the Swede understands that the face lift was for Orcutt.
  • The new house is for Dawn and Orcutt to live in, together, abandoning the Swede and Jessie.
  • The Swede thinks that Dawn and Orcutt are "predators" (8.139).

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