Lesson Plans American Pastoral

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After a while you begin to suspect that these characters are not characters anymore but mouthpieces for an award-giving body. Is this a bad thing though? Not necessarily. There are certain books that are too heavy handed with it, but most books that matter have a degree of self-awareness to them. And when done right, the self-awareness is rendered invisible.

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Although, in my opinion, the best kinds of books are those written without any pretensions. In the field literature, there exists that crazy phenomenon when self-consciousness would translate into self-confidence and that confidence can goad an author to take extremely ambitious risks. And in this instance, the risks paid off. This novel has moments when I thought I was reading out of a DeLillo novel. He digs inside his ego and sees his fears, and in them he unearths a voice that scares us all.

What is wrong with my way of life? This is a question you might not have asked yourself, but probably will if you choose to or have read this book.

You love the norms and the absolutes you are used to and comfortable with. But sometimes people like Merry appear, a little too idealistic, susceptible to propaganda and driven by their craving for needed change. There are also those intellectuals sitting atop their little ivory towers and fancy armchairs too high to be bothered with anything tangible. And there are nobs that just like money and nothing else. Point is, people are different. Religion, political preference, race, gender, sports, brands, paper vs e-books, name it, all these cause conflict.

America the great is a land of unlimited opportunities, but with unlimited opportunities came the price of unlimited threats, threats to your way of life, threats to your family. The time when nations went to war is over, the individual battles, idea against belief, are now being fought. As a species, our issues are now looking to be more and more self-centric. Well, sort of. It took me two months to read this novel. To be a little more accurate, it took me two months to read the first half of this novel and less than four hours to read the rest.

This style suited the second half, but right from the get go without the necessary foundation his monologues seem misplaced. But when you get to the dinner party, and his characters start to actually feel alive, it surprised me. At its best this is up there among the great American novels.


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Yes, it sort of sputtered initially and this is where, I think, many people write it off. But endure the shaky takeoff and some early turbulence; this can take you to great heights. View all 5 comments. Sep 17, David Schaafsma rated it it was amazing Shelves: fictionth-century , roth , books-loved This Roth's masterpiece, in case you want to read one or two of his books, now that he is gone.

Apparently Philip Roth is a difficult man. He has a reputation, by his own admission, as a cad, a bounder, profligate. His ex-wife, the actress Claire Bloom, with whom he lived for something like 18 years, castigates him in a memoir that makes him look almost psychotically ruthless, I seem to recall from reviews never read the book, heard This Roth's masterpiece, in case you want to read one or two of his books, now that he is gone.

His ex-wife, the actress Claire Bloom, with whom he lived for something like 18 years, castigates him in a memoir that makes him look almost psychotically ruthless, I seem to recall from reviews never read the book, heard it was awful and made HER look even more difficult than him.

I read his early works, such as Portnoy's Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus, in the early-mid seventies and loved them. Thought they were hilarious in my late teens and early twenties. He writes about "himself" in books such as My Life as a Man as not entirely admirable with respect to women. I didn't read anything by him again until fairly recently, when I read his memoir of his relationship to his dying father, Patrimony, and the two of them are not nice guys, not easy, but there's a kind of depth and love between them that you get to see why it is one might want to hang around with Roth.


Both are arrogant, brutal to each other in some ways, and yet they love each other. And why read about such people? Because Roth is an amazing writer, he creates wonderful sentences and is not a bullshitter. He's ruthlessly truthful, it seems to me.

Full Lesson Plan Overview

Roth is known for writing autobiographical fiction. Is this actually true, that he actually is writing about himself? I don't know. This is part of the central conceit of most of his writing, that his narrators are Roth, or some version of Roth. His narrator Nathan Zuckerman in Pastoral is a writer, not a nice man, a womanizer. The much debated question is the extent to which Zuckerman is Roth.

Black Theology

And many Goodreads readers hate his novels because they see Zuckerman as Roth, and both we suspect may be assholes. My take on this is that Zuckerman is not Roth, and in this book that is important, and makes it all the more brilliant. The book begins with Zuckerman going to his 45th high school reunion and meeting a fellow asshole, Jerry Levov, whose brother Nathan looked up to, Seymour Levov, The Swede, who was a star athlete with blond hair and blue eyes, not typically Jewish-looking, as are almost all the Jews of his high school.

Swede married a goyish Miss New Jersey and took over his father's Newark glove-making factory. Zuckerman admires Swede, his high school hero, but finds that the perfect northeastern Jew turned American Dream had a daughter, Merry, who was not so merry, who at 16 had joined an organization much like Weathermn, an initially violent offshoot of the SDS, and she bombs a local post office, killing a local physician, goes underground.

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  4. The first section of the novel, Paradise Remembered, is Zuckerman recalling how great high school was, and how great the Greatest Generation, the forties and fifties, were. Amazing back patting section about the Jews of the idyllic American Dream hamlet of suburban Old Rimrock, outside Newark, with pretty wealthy business owners and intellectuals and doctors, and so on. They made it, whoopee.

    American Pastoral

    Only one cautionary consideration: Zuckerman admits that being human, being a writer, is "getting it wrong," about human nature, and then he tells us a story of the Swede and his messed up life. Swede maintained "high standards" and a kind of order in the face of the sixties, and Nam, and the "American berserk," when people went crazy politically and spiritually. Well, as to that "getting it wrong," the Second section of the novel is The Fall, and the third is Paradise Lost, so you know where this is heading.

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    Away from Nirvana, right. Things are not what they seem, and we know all that about happy rich people who have coveted greener grass. I was initially uncomfortable with some of Zuckerman's early nostalgia though I know it is a set-up for what comes later and even more so with the radical-bashing that happens as Seymour trashes the lifestyle of his daughter Merry.

    And lefties like me I count former Weatherman Bill Ayers as a friend and colleague, and attended SDS meetings in Ann Arbor in the sixties when I was myself 16 hate the superficial rejection of the sixties radicalism that goes on to this day. But my point is that this is Zuckerman, not Roth, and this is Zuckerman's blind love for the Swede and his hatred of his radical murderer daughter, not necessarily Roth's. I do know that liberal peaceniks like me parted ways with Weathermen and other sixties counter-cultural groups when they began resorting to "any mean necessary" such as violence. But this is Zuckerman, a romantic, writing his pieced-together fiction of The Swede, and we know it is a fiction.

    It is a tale of rage and bewilderment and loss of the American Dream, one we can all mourn in our own ways. And it is romanticized, but it also has some breathlessly beautiful passages, much of it amazing dialogue, sometimes between Merry and Swede, sometimes speeches from grandpa patriarch Lou, sometimes fights between Jerry and Swede, and it is overall, terrific writing, just wonderful.

    Staff Pick: 'American Pastoral' by Philip Roth

    Some of the detailed descriptions of the careful craftsmanship of glove-making are like an elegy to a time when such attention to detail and quality of work by hand was more widespread, a more elemental time, maybe according to Zuckerman! This book is in part about the shift from the protected, optimistic post-war period and the twenty five year shift to Hell that took us into the mid-seventies. It's a father-son story, it's a father-daugher story.

    It's a story of one Jewish version of the American Dream and assimilation. It's the story of the decline of cities like Newark, destroyed by riots and white flight and the abandonment of industry. It's about the myth of the American Pastoral dream escape from the urban to the rural, all those lovely flowers and trees as no real escape from "reality". The male characters, filled with rage and despair, are a little like Lear, raging at loss and decline, and they take center stage here, but the women portraits are also fully realized and impressive. In the ending sentences we are led to doubt Zuckerman's point of view, his romanticizing, and his bitterness.

    We are led to go back to his initial views about whether we can actually know other people, as writers, as people.