Existentialist Perspective In The Novel American Pastoral Essay

Length: 4 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Literature Type: Essay Paper: #56239939 Related Topics: Book Of Acts, American Dream, Book, Novel
Excerpt from Essay :

Existentialist Perspective in the Novel American Pastoral

The novel "The American Pastoral" by Philip Roth represents an important literary work that basis its construction on elements of literary existentialism through the way in which characters and their universe are created. The novel is relevant for the literary world through the way in which it describes track of the human life, evolution, and eventually of its demise. The author underlines the idea of the contemporary society as a chaotic universe, despite human attempts to control it. This book employs sartrian alienation with the purpose of describing events experienced by the protagonist as he loses touch with his family, with his traditions, and with his personal identity in general.

The book offers an interesting perspective for the audience particularly because in part it represents a set of remembrances that take the reader back into the past and includes both a historical experience and a personal one. From this point-of-view it can be said that the novel offers a very complex construction and subject that considers a variety of elements related to the existence of the main character, Seymour Levov and his family as well as the general context of the American society in the 60s.

The complex nature of the novel focuses on the life and destiny of Seymour Levov, or "the Swede," a Jewish immigrant that up to one point managed to create a name for him and engage into what is known as the American way of life. As the author points out, Seymour "the Swede" was "a very nice, simple, stoical guy. Not a humorous guy. Not a passionate guy. & #8230; Banal, conventional, (…) with the natural modesty of someone for whom there were no obstacles (…) golden gift for responsibility (…) fatally attracted to responsibility… [a] truly great father. Good-looking, kind, providing, thinks about nothing really but & #8230; his family." (pp. 72-73). Hence, the character of the novel did not entail any characteristics that would have otherwise made him prone to unhappiness or tragedy. However, despite the fact that he had managed to overcome his situation and become successful, he failed to become an extraordinary individual in any certain aspect.

The general background gives complexity to the novel largely because it sets in the minds of the readers the historical background of the Vietnam War against which the daughter of the Swede had been protesting. The fact that his daughter had engaged in protests related to the desire to change a current status outside the social nature of the community provided a sense of failure as a parent and as a guidant.

In spite of the fact that Seymour managed to lead a successful life and even with the fact that he struggled throughout his life to improve his living conditions and the lives of those close to him, "the plague America" intervened and decisively affected him. While it might seem curious that he came to lose almost everything that he had, Roth proceeds to describe elements that played an essential role in alienating the Swede from the image that he came to identify with. The fact that Seymour did not present Merry with an upbringing related to his cultural background reflected on her personality and on her radicalization. This made it impossible for her to gain an unambiguous identification of who she was.

Existentialist philosophies promote the belief that alienation frequently occurs in the case of individuals living in the modern world and who attempt to integrate communities without focusing on...


The Swede's progress is actually responsible for distancing him from his real personality and for making it difficult for him to understand how he needed to treat his daughter. The protagonist created an image that was no longer connected to him and that was merely meant to have others express appreciation regarding his achievements. His attitude in regard to life affected his views and had a harmful effect on Merry, considering that he was raised in a world that did not provide her with sufficient support and that eventually came to shape her personality. Even though it is very improbable that she was actually inclined to express leftist thinking before she was persuaded by the social order, it was too late for the Swede to do something once she started to perform immoral acts on behalf of values that were confusing to her. One should not necessarily consider that "globalization and the erasure of local differences, the equalization of social experience, the growth of mass education and mass culture, even the all-pervasive cash-nexus and alienation brought about by capitalism" (Sayers 13) have negative effects on society. People are actually responsible for how they allow themselves to be shaped by society's trends and their actions reflect on their personalities, on their families, and on the communities that they live in.

The character of Seymour also has a social perspective, which offers complexity to the character. More precisely, Seymour had good relations with the society; he had improved his position as a third generation of immigrants and was living the American dream. All this was achieved through hard work and perseverance. This aspect of the novel points out an extremely important aspect for the American society in the late 60s that is related to the status of immigrants. It is quite common the fact that immigrants had had a tough road to walk in order to improve their condition since the beginning of the 20th century. However, the novel points out that in such cases success can be seen and enjoyed provided that commitment and dedication for the goal is shown. The success story of Seymour in terms of business opportunities showed the perspectives and occasion the 1950s and 60s had provided for the new businesses and in general for attaining the American dream.

Another aspect that is important for the novel relates to the status of the immigrant in post war America. The book points out the way in which the family of immigrants, as both Seymour and his wife were of immigrant descent, managed to create a status in the society though commitment to the American values that took effect after the war ended. In this sense, "the Swede" was "A former star high-school athlete, now a wealthy glove manufacturer, he embodies the postwar American dream. With his radiant wife, Dawn, he lives in a large stone house in the American pastoral beyond the Newark suburbs. He's an unreligious Jew who learned his beloved trade the hard way, as had his father and his father's father." (Kafka, n.d.)

Finally another perspective of the novel and perhaps the one that all the subjects presented in the book converge to is related to the issue of destiny and fate. Despite the fact that Seymour worked hard to achieve his status and to ensure a good life for him and his family, in the end the world is chaotic, no matter the order that the human being is trying to create. Seymour's attempts to do better than his ancestors and have control over his destiny fail from all points-of-view.

The book tries to commit to a message that at the end is visible throughout. The human destiny cannot be controlled, despite all attempts. Although Seymour tried to place order in his life, he eventually ended up in chaos that could not be controlled. More precisely, "Levov's attempts to find his daughter leave him exposed to manipulation and exploitation. This once confident man, a walking and talking exponent of the American Dream, is now enmeshed in the worst aspects of the American nightmare of the turbulent 1960s. But Roth tightens his noose even more. Levov needs to deal with an unfaithful wife, his precarious health, race riots that impact his glove factory, and -- most…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works cited

Gioia, Ted. "American Pastoral by Philip Roth." The New Canon. N.d. Web, 4 December, http://www.thenewcanon.com/american_pastoral.html

Kafka, Alexander. Paradise costs In Philip Roth's world, the bucolic pleasures of American success can't muffle the terror fueled by loneliness. N.d. Web. 4 December, 2011 <http://www.bostonphoenix.com/alt1/archive/books/reviews/05-97/ROTH.html>

Roth, Philip. American Pastoral. New York: Vintage, 1998, print.

Sayers, Sean. "The Concept of Alienation in Existentialism and Marxism

Cite this Document:

"Existentialist Perspective In The Novel American Pastoral" (2011, December 04) Retrieved July 31, 2021, from

"Existentialist Perspective In The Novel American Pastoral" 04 December 2011. Web.31 July. 2021. <

"Existentialist Perspective In The Novel American Pastoral", 04 December 2011, Accessed.31 July. 2021,

Related Documents
Liberation Theology Meets Humankind Embrace
Words: 4042 Length: 12 Pages Topic: Theology Paper #: 46589165

Liberation Theology as an Analytical Reflection on Praxis, and Where Theology and Humankind Embrace One among the most important Christian theological developments within the past 100 years is liberation theology. The doctrine's advocates regard it as a novel means to 'do theology', rather than a subfield of theology. The method aims to view the universe with regard to being involved with disadvantaged and subjugated individuals. It also endeavors to discover, within

Role of Spirituality in the Treatment of Depression
Words: 6318 Length: 20 Pages Topic: Mythology - Religion Paper #: 11568926

Role of Spirituality in the Treatment of Depression Over the last thirty years, one of the most interesting paradoxes in the study and treatment of depression has been that increased knowledge about the biomedical and genetic causes of the disease has been coupled with a renewed interest in the effect of religion and spirituality on human mental health and well-being. No matter how religion and spirituality are defined -- and many