How does American Pastoral explore "the consequences of forsaking one’s Jewish origins?"

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In American Pastoral, Seymor Levov -- The Swede -- is a second-generation Jewish American who is successful in business but fails in his personal life. The novel deals with the political and social upheavals in America during the 1960s and 1970s.

Levov is Jewish by heritage, but does not accept it as a religion or lifestyle. Because of his physical appearance -- tall, blond hair, blue eyes -- he does not look like the stereotypical Jew of the time, but he still feels a connection to his heritage: not a personal connection, as he takes pains to avoid Jewish institutions, but something deeper that makes him feel different even as he strives to fit into society. Levov's disinterest in Judaism is echoed by his militant, homegrown-terrorist daughter, but in her case it seems to have nothing to do with her actions, while in his, every achievement is followed by the pull to succeed more, to achieve more, and be accepted without acknowledgement of his heritage.

Levov's dismissal of his heritage is also a factor in the discomfort he feels as a member of society; while he is widely praised in school and successful in business, he feels separated from his home country in a way that his Gentile friends do not. His disconnection is echoed by the race riots and Anti-War movements, both of which express dissatisfaction in the country with the intention of change; Levov does not want to change anything, he just wants to fit in. Ironically, his dismissal of Judaism eliminates the one place where he would likely be accepted as a member without question; Levov ultimately dies without finding answers to any of his questions and fears.