Literature Study GuidesThe American Trilogy

The American Trilogy | Study Guide

Philip Roth

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The American Trilogy Study Guide." Course Hero. 4 Feb. 2019. Web. 22 Sep. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, February 4). The American Trilogy Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The American Trilogy Study Guide." February 4, 2019. Accessed September 22, 2023.


Course Hero, "The American Trilogy Study Guide," February 4, 2019, accessed September 22, 2023,



Philip Roth

First Published





Historical Fiction

At a Glance

The American Trilogy series consists of three separate novels that share themes, some but not all settings, and only one character. All three novels are set in the northeastern United States, with a particular focus on Newark, New Jersey. The only character who appears in all three novels is Nathan Zuckerman, a novelist who narrates the events but is only marginally involved in the action. The series does not unfold in chronological order. The first novel, American Pastoral (1997), describes the upheavals of the 1960s through the story of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a factory owner who lives in Old Rimrock, New Jersey. The second novel, I Married a Communist (1998), describes blacklisting, or banning from film industry work in the 1940s and 1950s for Communist sympathies, through the story of Ira Ringold, a Communist radio actor. The third novel, The Human Stain (2000), describes identity politics at a university in Massachusetts in the late 1990s against the backdrop of impeachment hearings for then-president Bill Clinton.

Roth's American Trilogy explores many of his usual themes, including Jewish assimilation, the entanglements of family, betrayal, lust, mortality, and the decline of Newark, New Jersey. In The Facts, Roth's autobiography, he writes that his father's stories had a limited repertoire of themes: "family, family, family, Newark, Newark, Newark, Jew, Jew, Jew. Somewhat like [my own repertoire]." In The American Trilogy these themes are used to explore recent American history, particularly the decline of the American dream in the face of social, political, and economic upheavals in the latter half of the 20th century. Rather than serving as a mere backdrop to fictional incidents, historical periods of the United States become characters in The American Trilogy.

Perspective and Narrator

Each novel is narrated in its opening chapters in the first person by Nathan Zuckerman, a character who is a novelist very similar to the author, Philip Roth. In all three novels the first-person narration gives way to third-person narration. Since Nathan Zuckerman has said he is going to write the story, presumably, the third-person narration also comes from his character.


The books in The American Trilogy are written in past tense.

About the Title

The three novels of The American Trilogy deal with social upheavals in America: McCarthyism in the 1950s; anti-war protest and riots in the 1960s; and identity politics and sexual politics in the 1990s. Although the novels' plots deal with the fates of individual characters, thematically the novels are all concerned with the ways the American dream has decayed.


This study guide for Philip Roth's The American Trilogy offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

Buy this book from
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The American Trilogy? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!