American Pastoral is a rise and fall of civilization story. Our hero, “The Swede,” is an idealized, all-American success story. He’s a brilliant high school athlete, and the cherished son of an immigrant family. He builds a factory from the ground up, making women’s gloves, from a time when women wore gloves. He marries a
beauty queen. They buy a comfortable house just outside of town and they have a daughter.
His factory soldiers on through the battering waves of American industrial history. Race riots rage in the streets and the Swede just keeps going, keeping his small band of employees working. His wife goes on to own and operate a cattle ranch. Work and enterprise are the saving forces, the noble pursuits.
Meanwhile, their daughter grows up to be a kind of deranged political activist. She falls under some radical influences and gradually adopts a fully unhinged philosophy that has her bombing government buildings and going on the run. She ends up in a squalid lean-to, in a no-man’s land under a freeway. Her teeth are rotted and her face is covered in accordance with an obscure religious sect she subscribes to. It’s not a pretty picture.
The book ends on a dark note, with the American dream defiled. It leaves a bitter taste.