George O'Brien on the meaning of the title of Philip Roth's classic:
One version of America’s notion of its exceptionalism is that it embodies the values of the pastoral, that it is uniquely a haven, allaying the homeland insecurities of, say, Eastern European Jewry, and doing so not by accident but with a degree of national awareness that reaches the assurance and inviolability of myth. Deliverance, shelter, the huddled masses and the green fields of the republic on which they may safely graze, are all to the fore in the story of the Swede and his immediate forebears. But as well as achieving, thriving and profiting being possible, so are their opposites, and these too make their presence felt as lavishly as American bounty, only with destructive consequences. It is as though the extreme promise of America generates an alternative extreme that betrays and negates that promise, a negation that is particularly intimate and corrosive when the promise seems to have been perfectly reproduced in the person of the Swede’s beloved daughter Merry. America is the pastoral and the anti-pastoral, the “paradise remembered” of this novel’s opening section and the “paradise lost” of its close. Between the two is “the fall”: what else could there possibly be? The fall and all the fallibility it connotes is inevitably the synthesis of the two opposing but related paradises, the American and the pastoral.