Study Guide

American Pastoral Language and Communication

By Philip Roth

Language and Communication

American Pastoral, like a bunch of Philip Roth's novels, is obsessed with miscommunications. We get the stuttering of Merry Levov, Zuckerman's reunion-speech-that-never-was, and the media that help shape everyone's reality. People are talking (and writing) a mile a minute in this novel, but no one is really getting their point across.

This novelis also the story of Nathan Zuckerman, and how he comes to write the story of the Swede and Merry. Basically, this novel shows us a man imagining (possibly incorrectly) the failed communication of a man and his family. There are layers upon layers of messed-up communication at work here.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What are some examples of miscommunication in the novel?
 Why is Merry's stuttering such a big issue in American Pastoral? How do you feel about the different reasons given for Merry's stuttering?
  2. Is the Swede a good communicator? Is Dawn?
  3. How does the media shape the reality of the characters?

Chew on This

If Merry had been sheltered from the media until she was mature enough to handle war news, she might not have become an extremist.

Merry's stuttering is meant as an allegory for the "stuttering" state of America during the Vietnam War.

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