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Writer's Reviews - American Pastoral: Philip Roth

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them.

1,000 words go far beyond mere criticism or superficial praise; they are intended to point you to one or more secret elements, showing you what narrative techniques are masterfully employed by the author of the work in question.

Written with the unique perspective of an author for authors, reviews aim to point out to you what added value you can glean from twenty literary classics. With this in mind, choosing the reading best suited to your need will prove much easier.


Cover of Amercican Pastoral (1997)  by  Philip Roth


American Pastoral (1997)

Philip Roth

The work at a glance

American Pastoral, by American writer Philip Roth, is part of the so-called Zuckerman Trilogy-along with I Married a Communist and The Human Stain-a character who appears in several of his novels and represents the writer's alter-ego.

The plot revolves around Jerry Levov's account to Nathan Zuckerman of his older brother Seymour known as Swede (the Swede), a handsome and attractive man who in life distinguished himself particularly for his sporting prowess and whose biography of sorts Zuckerman reconstructs. Seymour Levov grew up in Newark, New Jersey and is the son of Jewish immigrants. He inherited a glove-making factory from his father and married a former Catholic-born beauty queen, Dawn Dwyer.

However, Seymour Levov's seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when his beloved teenage daughter, Merry, begins a political militancy first by joining the anti-Vietnam War peace movement until becoming involved in increasingly extremist actions. In fact, the girl participates in a bombing at a post office in which a bomb explosion causes the death of several people. As a result of Merry's act, Seymour Levov's life will take a dramatic turn: after the bombing, the girl flees and the Swede begins a tormented and at times desperate search for his daughter, trying for years to rebuild his family.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. Innovative structure and use of an alter-ego

  2. Construction of complex characters

  3. Social and historical context analysis


As is the case in several of Roth's novels, the narrative in American Pastoral is entrusted to Nathan Zuckerman, who represents the American writer's alter ego and reconstructs the protagonist's story through the accounts of friends and family members.

This is an example of a change of perspective in the narrative in which the author himself becomes the narrative voice but in the guise of an imaginary character who yes represents him - Zuckerman is a Jewish writer like Roth - but who possesses his own and different identity. For this reason, the narrative structure appears complex: the story is presented through the testimonies of other characters who intertwine with the events and then become a multifaceted and profound analysis of them. Indeed, the novel presents an intricate plot in which Roth's skills in weaving it with great mastery emerge. Roth possesses eloquent, even sophisticated, writing that induces continuous reflection and in which the level of narrative tension is always very high.

We are really dealing with an impeccable and almost unique style from which it is possible to take cues on how to succeed in rendering and conveying one's ideas effectively. In American Pastoral Roth was also a master in sketching his characters, particularly the main character Seymour Levov who appears to us in all his complexity and even drama; but also of his daughter Merry whose extreme life choices contribute to a decisive turn not only of events but also in the very soul of her father who from that moment on will never be the same.

This demonstrates how much the changes in the characters as a result of episodes that are themselves unexpected give the narrative a force and power that involve the reader in an ever-increasing tension. But American Pastoral is also and above all a profound reflection on American society in the 1960s and 1970s, of its dynamics and deep contradictions, as we find in much of American literature in the works of its most representative writers.

Through the story of the Levov family Roth explores the American dream (a classic topos that will also influence our literature), social conflicts, youthful rebellion and the cultural changes of the time. The classic values that mark American society such as the sense of identity and belonging appear in the novel, but in a well-defined historical framework in which early contradictions, pacifist movements such as extreme political choices, generational conflict, the Vietnam War, and youth protests that would later also find their place in the spread of the counterculture emerge.

The novel is a powerful and complex story that explores the consequences of the choices and actions of one man and his family, and in this it is an authentic account of the precise historical moment in which it is set. Once again, then, literature trespasses from the classical dictates on which a novel is set, shifts paradigms and becomes a vehicle for knowledge.

This is Roth's greatness to be looked at with extreme attention because reading a work of such extraordinary literary value not only becomes a cultural and intellectual experience that excites and engages but also an example from which to draw for those who wish to explore important themes in their writings, propose complex and multifaceted characters, move interest and stimulate curiosity.



Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1998, American Pastoral is considered one of Philip Roth's absolute masterpieces. Widely praised by critics, this extraordinary and critically acclaimed novel, through its innovative style, helped redefine fiction and push the boundaries of the novelistic form, thus crediting it as a classic of American literature and establishing Philip Roth as one of the most important and significant contemporary authors.

His influence endures to this day in the works of many subsequent writers from Jonathan Franzen to Richard Ford, from Zadie Smith to Jeffrey Eugenides. The Jewish origins of Philip Roth (who also called himself a Jewish writer) have been instrumental in the portrayal of his works because in them, as widely acknowledged by several influential critics, there appears a particular vision on the part of the writer of a certain malaise towards the lives of American Jews. This aspect becomes a constitutive element of his novels, in his characters, down to the choice of the names of his protagonists and the titles of his works, and in the complex themes. Perhaps the most Jewish trait we find in Philip Roth is probably just that: questioning and questioning again leading the protagonists and readers to constant reflection.

American Pastoral has also had a film adaptation, American Pastoral, a 2016 film directed by and starring Ewan McGregor, in his directorial debut.


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