Study Guide

American Pastoral Family

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One of Tolstoy's most famous quotes is that "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

It's safe to say that American Pastoral's Levov clan is one of a kind—these guys are massively unhappy. When Merry Levov bombs her hometown post office and then disappears, her family is in a state of crisis. Working from a few clues and the strength of his imagination, novelist Nathan Zuckerman reconstructs the tragedy and explores its (huge) impact on the family.

Questions About Family

  1. How would you describe some of the father-son relationships in the novel?
  2. Does Dawn really plan to leave the Swede, as he suspects, or is her affair a fling?
  3. What is the impact of Merry's bombing on the various members of the Levov family?
  4. What do you think of Merry's relationships with her various family members before the bombing?
  5. Are there things her family should have done differently before and/or after the bombing?
  6. Why does Dawn seem to erase Merry from her life?
  7. What are some of the novel's perspectives on inter-religious marriages?

Chew on This

Although he doesn't realize it until after the bombing, the Swede allows his duty to his father to unduly influence his actions.

Merry is a symbol of every parent's worst nightmare.

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