Study Guide

American Pastoral Literature and Writing

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Literature and Writing

American Pastoral is both a chronicle of an American family in turmoil and a novel about writing novels. When aging author Nathan Zuckerman (Philip Roth's alter ego) starts obsessing over the inner life of his childhood hero Swede Levov, he discovers the Swede's family secret: a daughter who killed a local doctor after bombing her hometown post office to protest the Vietnam War.

Since the Swede is dead when Zuckerman learns the news, he finds himself compelled to write a fictional account of the Swede's inner turmoil after the event. The result is the story of the Swede that we read.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. Does Zuckerman's discussion of the novel-writing process help us understand the Swede's story or not?
  2. Why does Zuckerman want to write the Swede's story?
  3. Does Zuckerman disappear from the story or can you still "hear" his voice? Are there moments in the Swede's story where you think, "Huh. That sounds like Zuckerman."?
  4. How would you describe Zuckerman's writing process? What are some of the tools he uses?
  5. Why is Zuckerman so fascinated with the Swede?

Chew on This

The description of Zuckerman's writing process is important because it helps us remember that this is only one version of the Swede's inner lifeā€¦ and probably the wrong one. This leaves the readers more room to interpret the story.

The discussion of the writing process is distracting and not necessary to the story.

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