The American Dream In Philip Roth's American Pastoral

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Philip Roth ends American Pastoral with a resounding rhetorical question: “And what is wrong with their life? What on earth is less reprehensible than the life of the Levovs?” (Roth 252). Indeed, one wonders, why has the Swede, a man seemingly perfect in every aspect, been marked out to be a modern day Job, one whose idyllic American life is shattered by a renegade, murderous daughter? The answer lies in the Swede’s enthrallment with the peak of the American dream, his utopian American pastoral. In striving for this ideal, the Swede sacrifices his Jewish identity in favor of the classic image of American innocence and individualistic achievement (the same image that enticed generations of assimilatory American Jews), yet fails to realize that…show more content…
His vision corresponds with the Jewish immigrant dream of a life free of precarity and vulnerability, free of disorder and chaos, where one may create for himself, by himself, one’s own life to live, bound by familial duty, adherence to social norms and conventions, and, above all else, self-fulfillment. This is best encapsulated in the Swede’s own quintessential image of himself, “Johnny Appleseed, that's the man for me. Wasn't a Jew, wasn't an Irish Catholic, wasn't a Protestant Christian—nope, Johnny Appleseed was just a happy American” (Roth 184). The Swede wants nothing more than to be “just a happy American,” characterized American innocence, optimism, and responsibility, de-ethnicized, de-religionized, and unshackled from any identitarian constraints. His code is one of “the hero” who “behave[s] in a certain way—there is a prescription for it… to be modest… to be forbearing… to be deferential… to be understanding… this heroically idealistic maneuver, this strategic, strange spiritual desire to be…show more content…
The Swede’s sheltered, ordered, innocent American pastoral is immediately upturned by the uninhibited, anarchic, violent American berserk embodied by Merry, who defiles first through her stutter (which disrupts the fluency of assimilationist speech until the Swede “picture[s] the whole of his life as a stuttering mouth and a grimacing face—the whole of his life without cause or sense and completely bungled” (Roth 53)), then through the bomb she explodes in a post office (which disrupts the purported innocence of American life), and finally through her conversion to a possession-less, sanitation-less Jain (which disrupts the idea of the materialistic, self-made hero that the Swede strives to be). Yet, this impossible-to-foresee blight upon the Swede’s American
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