History and the anti-pastoral
Utopian dreams and rituals of purification in the ‘American Trilogy’
in Philip Roth
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Philip Roth's fiction has always been characterised by the tension between the individual capacity for self-determination and the deterministic forces of history; between seductive dreams of harmony, idealism, and purity and the troubling realities of discord, disillusionment and corruption; between the desire to exert control, impose order, and explain, and the impulse to break free from all constraints; to revel in anarchy, chaos and disorder; and to celebrate the indeterminate, the unknowable and the inexplicable. Nowhere are these tensions more clearly articulated than in what has become known as his ‘American Trilogy’ of novels: American Pastoral (1997), I Married A Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000). This chapter explores Roth's use of what it calls the ‘anti-pastoral’ mode in his ‘American Trilogy’ of novels. It applies the term ‘nature anxiety’ metaphorically to define Roth's deconstruction of the Utopian dreams and rituals of purification with which many of the characters in the American Triology delude themselves and deceive others.


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