Study Guide

American Pastoral Visions of America

By Philip Roth

Visions of America

We get a whole lot of the good ol' US of A in American Pastoral (just check out the title!). Our tour d'America spans an entire century, from the 1890s to the 1990s. We briefly focus on the World War II era and focus for quite a while on the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Set almost entirely in New Jersey, this is America from the perspective first of Nathan Zuckerman, an aging novelist, and then from Swede Levov, who is Zuckerman's childhood idol. They show us that the American dream is more like a nightmare, with the titular "pastoral" giving way to a way more realistic "American berserk."

Questions About Visions of America

  1. What does the novel say about being Jewish in America during the various times discussed?
  2. The novel puts forth a vision of America just after the end of World War II. What are some aspects of this vision?
  3. What's the significance, if any, of the Miss America Pageant to the novel? What are some of the novel's perspectives on American beauty pageants?
  4. What are some of the novel's perspectives on religion in America?

Chew on This

American Pastoral casts America in a very harsh light and makes the Swede's love for America seem like a joke.

The novel argues that an accurate vision of America can't ignore America's connectedness with the rest of the world.

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