At its most basic, American Pastoral asks the question "Why does Merry Levov turn into a bomb-detonating killer and then an emaciated recluse?" What went wrong? Who is to blame?
From the point of view of her father, the Swede, everything and nothing is to blame. Through his guilt-ridden search for answers, we are provided with a variety of possible reasons for Merry's actions. These possible explanations touch on many of the other themes in the book, including religion, politics, warfare, and family.
Questions About Guilt and Blame
Who or what is to blame for Merry's difficulties?
What are some of the accusations leveled at the Swede? At Dawn? At Merry?
Is Merry an innocent victim or a dangerous predator? Both?
What does the Swede feel most guilty about?
What might Dawn feel guilty about?
Does Merry feel guilty? Why or why not?
Is it wrong for the Swede to keep Merry hidden from the authorities?
If Sheila had called the Swede when Merry came to her after the bombings, could things have been different? Explain.
Chew on This
Merry's movement toward non-violence suggests that she feels remorse for her crimes.
If Merry had been raised religiously, she might have had something to help her deal with the political chaos around her.