Study Guide

American Pastoral Memory and the Past

By Philip Roth

Memory and the Past

American Pastoral looks at America over a hundred years, focusing primarily on the Vietnam era. When Merry Levov bombs the post office of her small New Jersey town, her dad's life is divided into "before" and "after."

Over the five years of his daughter's disappearance, the Swede looks back on his life, struggling to discover what went wrong. The novel also explores how the present impacts one's memories of the past and how these memories change in significance over time. The novel slips back and forth from the present to the past to the future in this tale of a man torn apart by the stuff history is made of.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How will the Swede's visit with Merry after she's been missing for five years impact his memory in the future?
  2. Does the Swede's present change the way he looks at his past?
  3. How do history and memory intersect in the novel?
  4. How does Dawn deal with her memories of Merry?

Chew on This

American Pastoral looks at how our ways of looking at the past change as time goes by.

The novel casts doubt on idealized versions of the American past.

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