Study Guide

American Pastoral Appearances

By Philip Roth

Appearances

Aging author Nathan Zuckerman is interested in finding out what goes beneath the "perfect" surface of main character, the Swede, his childhood idol and the hero of their predominantly Jewish Weequahic neighborhood.

Learning that the Swede's daughter bombed a post office to protest the Vietnam War is just what Zuckerman needs to imagine the Swede's inner life. American Pastoral also explores ideas of what it means to look American and how looks factor into versions of the American dream. In addition to looking at the Swede's inner life, it contrasts an idealized "pastoral" America with a chaotic "berserk" America locked in chaos, poverty, and turmoil.

Questions About Appearances

  1. What does the novel have to say about Jewish appearance in America during the various time periods covered?
  2. How does the news media impact the appearance of reality in the novel?
  3. Compare and contrast Merry's appearance with the Swede's in Chapters Five and Six of American Pastoral.
  4. Is the Miss America Pageant significant to the novel and its theme of appearances?
  5. What are some of the surfaces the novel tries to penetrate?
  6. Does the Swede's wealth play a big role in his appearance? Would he be equally gorgeous without the finely tailored suits?

Chew on This

The novel expresses anxiety about "fitting in" in America from a Jewish perspective.

The ladies gloves made at Newark Maid are important to the theme of appearances.

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