Study Guide

American Pastoral Warfare

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We go from the "USA! USA!" fervor that followed America fighting the good fight in WWII all the way to the decidedly less enthusiastic response toward American involvement in Vietnam. American Pastoral is super-concerned with all things war.

The novel is also big on bombs, from the bombs dropped on Japan that ended World War II to the bomb detonated by Merry Levov which ends life as the Levov family knows it. Philip Roth's Pulitzer-Prize-winning tragedy also explores the wars of words in which many of the characters live their lives. After Merry's bomb, her father, the Swede, fights a war within himself, for his sanity, and for his love for a daughter he can't understand or reach.

Questions About Warfare

  1. What does the novel say about World War II and life in America at the end of the war?
  2. Does the Swede's view of World War II change after Merry's bombing?
  3. According to the novel, what is life like in America during the Vietnam War? Do you think this is an accurate representation?
  4. Do the angry speeches made by some of the characters qualify as weapons?
  5. How does the Swede feel about the Vietnam War? How does this line up with Merry's view? With Lou's? Dawn's?
  6. Is American Pastoral an antiwar novel?

Chew on This

For Merry, life has always been a war.

After Merry bombs the post office during the Vietnam War, the Swede begins to look at World War II in a different light.

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