Everyman

by: Philip Roth

Key Facts

full title ·  Everyman

author ·  Philip Roth

type of work ·  Novel

genre ·  Literary fiction

language ·  English

time and place written ·  Early 200s; New York, New York

date of first publication ·  2006

publisher ·  Houghton Mifflin (my edition: Vintage, 2016/2007)

narrator · Everyman is narrated by an anonymous figure who knows everything about the novel’s unnamed protagonist (known as the everyman in this guide), including events that happen after the everyman dies.

point of view ·  The narrator speaks in the third person and focuses closely on the life, thoughts and feelings of the everyman. The narrator never enters into the viewpoint of other characters in the novel, only the point of view of the everyman. Occasionally the voice of the everyman breaks into the narration, which is seen through the use of “I.” However, the narrator occasionally makes small observations that reveal the things that the everyman cannot (or likely would not) know, such as the events after the everyman’s death. In this way the narration is omniscient, which means that the narrator tells us more about the everyman’s feelings and experiences than he could.

tone ·  The narrator’s tone is direct but melancholy in describing the life of the everyman, relating events and feelings in a way that is sympathetic to the everyman’s painful experiences of aging, medical issues, loneliness and death. A strong tone of nostalgia marks the parts of the novel that focus on the everyman’s childhood.

tense ·  Past

setting (time) ·  Contemporary, from the everyman’s birth in 1933 to his death in the early 2000s.

setting (place) ·  New Jersey (Elizabeth and the Jersey Shore) and Manhattan.

protagonist ·  The unnamed man at the center of this novel, referred to in this guide as the everyman.

major conflict ·  The everyman’s struggle to come to terms with his aging body, mortality, and desires.

rising action ·  The novel opens with the funeral of the everyman, but afterward the details of his life unfold in a non-chronological way to reveal his happy childhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, his failed marriages to Cecelia, Phoebe and Merete, his family relationships, and the medical procedures the everyman and others in his life experience and which lead him towards an understanding of his own mortality.

climax ·  After calling three friends to ask about the hardships they have recently suffered, from bereavement to hospitalization to a terminal cancer diagnosis, the everyman is forced to confront the fact that everyone he knows and loves, including himself, will die someday. Even though he was once youthful, he now must face his approaching oblivion.

falling action  · In response to his horrified realization of the inevitability of his death, the everyman visits the cemetery where his parents are buried and communes with their bones. There he meets a gravedigger who explains to him all the details of how a grave is dug and finished. Both communing with the bones and the professionalism of the gravedigger provide the everyman with a sense of peace which he carries with him into the final operation which results in his death.

themes ·  The inescapability of death, stoicism and the universality of suffering, and lust as a form of vitality.

motifs ·  Averageness, nostalgia, and familial relationships.

symbols ·  The human body, the ocean/sea, and diamonds.

foreshadowing ·  The novel opens with the burial of the everyman and, as such, the rest of the novel, which recounts his life, is shaded by the reader’s knowledge of the everyman’s early death during an operation. Because of the non-linear, non-chronological order to the way the events in the everyman’s life are described, foreshadowing is mostly missing from the novel. Certain events are reflected back in later forms, for example when the everyman is lying in the hospital as a boy and sees another boy in the bed next to him surrounded by doctors and nurses trying to prevent his death. Later on, as an adult in another hospital, the everyman wakes in the night to see doctors and nurses gathering around his bed to prevent his own death.