American Pastoral

by Philip Roth
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From American Pastoral, comment on how "Nathan's version of Swede's life is in part based on information he learns from others, but he also imagines a good many details, even makes up characters and events." 

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In many respects, the degradation of an "illusion" to "the indigenous American berserk" cannot be fully articulated with a sense of totality.  This lack of absolute clarity is one reason why Nathan's version of Swede's life is partly based on information he learns from others and from other information that is fabricated.  Nathan is not the absolute voice of reason, just as Swede's life is far from the absolute construction of perfection that he envisions.  Roth seeks to present a fragmented social and political setting.  This is mirrored in how Swede is unable to fully grasp why his seemingly perfect vision of life has fallen apart.  The same stutter that Merry carries, one that cannot fully articulate words and reality, is evident throughout the novel, such as with Swede's perfect vision, his wife's apparent loyalty, and even Nathan's admiration of Swede.  In the end, Nathan's version of Swede's life is made up partially from fact and conjectured creation to reflect how nothing is absolute and there can be no totality in the modern setting of America.

In many respects, Roth constructs Nathan as an unreliable narrator to enhance the critique of the concept of "the American Pastoral."  The American Dream, something that Swede feverishly pursues at all costs, is illusory.  It is fragmented, at best.  Swede believes that his pastoral is complete because he has married an Irish- Catholic beautiful woman and has acquired economic and social status.  This external construction of reality, one that seems coherent and unified, is actually fragmented and atomized.  Nathan's construction as a narrator is one that reflects such a condition.  In this light, Nathan's reliability as a narrator is a deliberate effect to convey thematic meaning in American Pastoral.

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