Study Guide

American Pastoral Part 3, Chapter 9

By Philip Roth

Part 3, Chapter 9

  • The Swede gets a phone call.
  • One of the local girls hired to help Dawn tells him quietly, "It's from I think Czechoslovakia" (9.2).
  • He takes the call in Dawn's study. In it, he finds Orcutt's model of the new house. He must have put it in her before he went to "help [Dawn] shuck the corn" (9.2).
  • Rita Cohen is on the phone. She knows about Czechoslovakia. She and her people have been following him.
  • They'd followed him to the hotel room where Merry had told him she didn't know any Rita Cohen.
  • Rita ask him why he's "doing this" (9.3) to Merry.
  • She accuses the Swede of telling Merry that he never had sex with Rita.
  • He says he never mentioned this to Merry.
  • The Swede is looking at the model of the house while Rita talks.
  • He lifts up the roof and sees all the miniature furniture and appliances Orcutt's put in the house, models of the actual furniture and appliances that will go in the actual house.
  • The Swede thinks Orcutt is much better at designing houses than painting.
  • He thinks, "The only thing missing from the bedroom" are cardboard cutouts (9.9) of Orcutt and Dawn having sex.
  • That would have been fun for the Swede to find while listening to the angry ramblings of Rita Cohen.
  • The Swede can't figure out how Merry "who will not even do harm to water" (9.10) could be involved with Rita and people like her.
  • Maybe, Rita and her gang are following Merry, too, and she doesn't even know it.
  • Or maybe Merry lied to him today when she said she didn't know Rita.
  • In that case, maybe she'd lied about Sheila too.
  • And if that's the case, "he and Sheila could run off together to Puerto Rico" (9.13).
  • If it kills Lou Levov, "well, they'd just have to bury him" (9.14).
  • (Flashback)
  • When the Swede is seven, his grandfather, Lou's father, dies with Lou and his brothers at his hospital bedside.
  • It's about seven thirty in the morning when Lou gets home.
  • The Swede watches from behind the curtains as Lou sits on the front steps.
  • He's still, with his face in his hands.
  • Even when Sylvia comes to him, he doesn't move.
  • It takes all his strength to hold back the tears.
  • He sits like this for more than an hour.
  • Then he gets up and goes to work.
  • (End flashback)
  • He wonders if Rita and Merry are lovers. If Merry really is the leader of some plot to torture him.
  • No—it must be like Merry said, "Rita Cohen does not exist" (9.16).
  • If she doesn't exist, he doesn't have to listen to the things she's saying.
  • She's afraid the Swede is going to bring Merry back to his way of life.
  • She's saying Merry is a saint, and she can't believe the Swede is going to take her from Rita.
  • She seems to know that he threw up in Merry's room.
  • He hangs up the phone.
  • Again, he thinks about running away with Sheila and about dealing with his father's death from the shock.
  • Nothing makes sense at all anymore.
  • He drops the fantasy and begins regretting hanging up on Rita.
  • She'll punish him for it.
  • All he knows is that Rita Cohen, now a twenty-seven year old woman, is still out to get him, still hates him.
  • Now that Rita is back again he's sure something horrible will happen.
  • Sheila Salzman walks into the room and asks if he's okay.
  • She says she thought he looked sick earlier and that he really looks sick now.
  • The Swede is looking at Dawn's desk.
  • The pictures of Count (the ten thousand dollar bull) are still on the desk, but the picture of Merry is gone.
  • When Sheila points at the model and asks if it's "the new house" (9.30), the Swede calls her a "b****" (9.31).
  • She just looks at him.
  • He tells her to go away, but grabs her arm when she tries to.
  • He confronts her about hiding Merry.
  • She admits it, but says she didn't know about the bombing until she'd already made promises to Merry.
  • She was also afraid that if she contacted the Swede the authorities would find Merry.
  • She says Merry sounded so angry and hateful toward the Swede, she was afraid something had happened to her at home.
  • When she'd had the affair with the Swede, she'd realized he couldn't have hurt Merry.
  • She and the Swede argue about this for a while.
  • The Swede accuses her, and she defends hiding Merry.
  • She tells the Swede not to blame her for what's happened. She saw that something had gone wrong with Merry at home, and she didn't think sending her back home would help her.
  • He says everything could have been different if Sheila had called him. He could have protected Merry.
  • When the Swede tells her that Merry killed three more people, she accuses him of saying things just to hurt her.
  • Now, there's nothing anyone can do to help Merry.
  • The Swede goes back to the dinner party.
  • Orcutt is talking to the Umanoffs.
  • Sylvia is next to Dawn, and they are talking to the Salzmans.
  • Jessie and Lou are missing.
  • He asks Dawn where Lou is and expects her to tell him Lou is dead.
  • But she doesn't know.
  • Sylvia says he's somewhere with Jessie.
  • Bill Orcutt comes up to the Swede.
  • The Swede fantasizes about smashing his head against the stones of the terrace floor.
  • Orcutt is telling the Swede how nice it is that Lou is giving Jessie attention.
  • Apparently, Lou has taken Jessie to the kitchen for pie and milk.
  • Orcutt has a gross mole on his face.
  • How can Dawn like him?
  • The Swede tells Orcutt he's seen the model of the new house.
  • Orcutt asks if he understands the model.
  • He says he does understand. He says, "I think you're going to be very happy in it" (9.134).
  • Orcutt chuckles and corrects the Swede.
  • But the Swede doesn't even know what he said.
  • He suddenly realizes he should have taken Merry from the room in Newark, like Jerry said.
  • If Rita touches Merry, the Swede will murder her.
  • He tells himself to "Calm down" (9.137).
  • If he takes Sheila to Merry, Sheila will be able to help her.
  • Dawn won't be able to help her, that's for sure.
  • Dawn is done.
  • Jerry's words echo in his head. He has to go back there.
  • But what will Lou think when he sees her with that veil.
  • Lou can't see that.
  • Maybe he and Merry can go live in Puerto Rico.
  • Forget about everyone else.
  • Just go back there and save Merry from that place.
  • The Swede can't really imagine life, "After Dawn" (9.141).
  • She doesn't want him; she wants Orcutt, "Mr. America" (9.141).
  • He holds Dawn's hand like a man who has "no information about the condition of his life" (9.142).
  • Dawn, he thinks, does want the Swede, but the memories are too hard for her.
  • She can't face the fact that "she gave birth to a murderer" (9.143).
  • Lou told him not to marry Dawn; he should have listened.
  • Lou objects to Dawn because she isn't Jewish.
  • The Swede couldn't tell his father that he wants to marry her because she's beautiful.
  • He's only twenty-three (in 1950, twenty two years ago). He tells Lou he's "in love with her" (9.145).
  • Lou is worried because they won't know whether to bring their kids up Catholic or Jewish.
  • And Lou was right. It was a mistake. They got a Jain.
  • The Swede has always been "most serious" about trying to keep his loved ones from "suffering" (9.146).
  • To try to please Lou, the Swede arranges for Dawn to meet with his father to discuss religion before they are married.
  • (Flashback.)
  • He tells Dawn to tone down any descriptions of her parent's Catholicism.
  • Best not to mention the rosary beads, crosses, religious statues, and pictures.
  • Keep references to Jesus to a minimum and don't talk about heaven.
  • Lou was brought up strictly Jewish and won't understand.
  • He tells Dawn not to talk about Jews either.
  • The Swede will always remember the conversation between Dawn and Lou, because Dawn is so brave and is pretty honest with Lou.
  • Dawn is a little over five feet tall, and the Swede doesn't realize her strength until he sees her with his father.
  • Dawn and Lou negotiate the child's religion for three hours.
  • Dawn gets a Catholic Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and some of Easter.
  • Lou gets her to promise not to have the child baptized, but she does anyway.
  • When Merry is six, Lou finds the baptismal certificate.
  • He loves Merry too much by then for it to really matter.
  • Lou still thinks the baptism is to blame for some of Merry's problems.
  • As a baby, Merry cries angrily all the time.
  • Lou doesn't go so far as to blame that on the baptism.
  • The Swede and Dawn take her to the doctor, had tests taken, tried everything, but nothing would keep Merry from screaming anytime, anywhere.
  • Dawn is about to go insane from it.
  • When Merry is about a year and half, the screaming stops.
  • Things are great until she starts stuttering.
  • Now, the Swede remembers the beginning of the conversation between Dawn and Lou.
  • (The conversation goes on for several pages. We'll quote a few lines so you can see the format. You should read it. It's pretty outrageous.)
  • Lou—DO YOU WEAR A CROSS AROUND YOUR NECK, MARY DAWN?
  • Dawn—I have. In high school I did for a while. […]
  • […]
  • Lou—ANY CROSSES IN YOUR HOUSE? HANGING UP?
  • Dawn—Only one. (9.158-62)
  • He wants to know how she feels about Jesus, and if her parents say bad things about Jews.
  • She says one of her cousins married a Jew. It wasn't a problem for the family
  • She was an older woman so the family was glad she was married.
  • Lou says, "SHE WAS SO OLD EVEN A JEW WOULD DO. HOW OLD WAS SHE, A HUNDRED?" (9.223).
  • Dawn says she was only thirty and that the issue of Catholics marrying Jews isn't that big of a deal with her family.
  • Lou thinks it is a big deal, because you have to decide how to raise the children.
  • They negotiate over which Catholic traditions will be observed, and which Jewish ones (as the Swede has already told us).
  • Dawn wants to wait until the child is born to decide these things, but Lou thinks it has to be decided now.
  • He tells Dawn he doesn't think this will work out and that she can leave.
  • She tells him she's not going anywhere because she loves the Swede.
  • And the negotiations continue. The deal is made. The Swede and Dawn get married.
  • Until the death of Dawn's father in 1959 the Levovs and the Dwyers have Thanksgiving dinner together every year.
  • Lou Levov could talk about Newark, and Jim Dwyer could talk about Elizabeth. It was a perfect match.
  • Dorothy Dwyer and Sylvia Levov don't get along quite as well, mostly because all Dorothy wants to talk about is Catholicism.
  • (End flashback. We are still at the dinner party.)
  • Dawn is telling Sheila and Shelly Salzman about a trip to see Simmentals (beef cattle) in Switzerland.
  • Dawn is describing the trip through Europe, but editing Merry out of all the scenes as if she doesn't remember that she was there, too.
  • The Swede remembers the trip very well. Merry at six was still his precious daughter.
  • He thinks of pictures of Dawn at the Miss America Pageant in New Jersey.
  • Dawn is more beautiful than the other five Miss New Jerseys that come to the Swede and Dawn's wedding.
  • He remembers how Dawn's father thought the girls in the pageants are exploited and drooled over.
  • But one of Dawn's aunts had talked him into coming to the pageant.
  • He can't understand it when Dawn's chaperone only lets him shake her hand, and he remembers feeling insulted for years to come.
  • Sheila has to be "pretending" to listen to Dawn go on about the trip to Europe.
  • She can't have just forgotten the conversation in the study.
  • Still, the Swede's impression of her was so wrong, just like his impression of his wife and daughter had been wrong.
  • Why can't he ever figure anybody out?
  • Shelly Salzman really is listening, under the sway of Dawn's beauty.
  • Sheila looks really plain next to Dawn.
  • Dawn is "hearty" (9.328) and Sheila is not.
  • He'd only been attracted to Sheila because she was "someone else" (9.328).
  • It wasn't passionate.
  • Sheila never could have stood up to Lou the way Dawn did.
  • He really wants Dawn back, the old, strong Dawn.
  • In his head, he replays telling Sheila about Merry's other three murders.
  • Dawn is telling them about the beautiful pictures of cows the Swede had taken in Switzerland.
  • The Swede thinks that when Sheila gets in the car she'll tell Shelly about Merry, and then Shelly will call the police and tell them where Merry is.
  • Maybe he can take Shelly to the side and explain things to him.
  • It isn't really Merry's fault. She's no longer violent.
  • It was because of the war.
  • He'll admit Merry is guilty and ask Shelly to let the Swede handle things.
  • The police already know, he thinks.
  • Jerry must have called them.
  • Now, Merry will be caught and it will be his fault, his fault because he told Jerry and Sheila about the other murders.
  • That was his bomb.
  • He's made it all worse.
  • But there was no way he could keep it inside, not today!
  • Suddenly he hears Lou Levov screaming, "No!"
  • The Swede thinks that Merry is here, that Lou has seen her in her veil.
  • She's walked all the way here "in her rags and sandals" (9.346).
  • All evening, the Swede has been afraid of Merry walking to Rimrock.
  • She's come here to confess to Lou about the four murders.
  • She tells him and he has a heart attack and dies.
  • When the Swede goes into the kitchen he sees blood on his father's face.
  • Jessie Orcutt is sitting at the table. A pie plate is on the table, and Jessie is holding a bloody fork.
  • When Jessie wouldn't eat the pie, the girls in the kitchen explain, Lou tried to feed her.
  • She takes the fork from him, telling him she'll feed herself, and then stabs him in the face with it.
  • Marcia says, "One drink less […] and you'd be blind Lou" (9.423).
  • Then she starts to laugh.
  • Something has gone wrong in Rimrock, and it can never be like it was.
  • The novel ends with two questions:
  • "And what is wrong with their life? What on earth is less reprehensible than the life of the Levovs?" (9.356).
  • (Check out "What's Up with the Ending?" for discussion of the questions and more.)

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