Everyman

by: Philip Roth

Sections 2-4

The ocean appears throughout these sections as a metaphor for the unknown. The everyman as a boy sees a dead sailor from a torpedoed ship washed up on the Jersey Shore. While on holiday with Phoebe, the wildness of the ocean at night frightens him, and in combination with the vastness of the night sky above it, symbolizes his own smallness and mortality. What is frightening about the ocean, and from this, oblivion, is its vastness, in comparison with the finite concrete nature of the human body. While the world of the everyman’s daily life is held steady by the continuity of his days, the ritual actions of his work, and his cyclical and continued obsession with various women’s bodies, the ocean symbolizes the opposite of these things – the unknowable, timeless void of the afterlife, which the everyman believes to be a termination of being and body alike.

The two things which separate the everyman from the routines of daily life and his family sphere are affairs and illness. Though one process is voluntary and the other involuntary, both are disruptive, and both tied to the image of the ocean. While he is in good health, the everyman can choose to swim, one of his hobbies. While ill, he is unable to go swimming. He is physically weak, unable to push his body against the force of the water. His first illness occurs after he returns from his holiday by the ocean with Phoebe, for whom he has left his first wife Cecelia, but the everyman does not view his illness as a curse or punishment for his infidelity. He sees adultery as something any average human being would have chosen to do to escape an unpleasant situation. Phoebe, like Maureen, provides comfort and distraction from the unsettling nature of sickness through her affection and vitality. While the everyman’s affairs are disruptive, they could be viewed as an action taken in part to combat the terminal disruption of death.