Everyman

by: Philip Roth

Sections 8-10

Summary: Section 8

The everyman attends his father’s funeral at the cemetery where the everyman will himself be buried one day. The cemetery is very run-down. The pillars of the gateway are badly broken and chipped and the gate is rusty. The one brick mausoleum looks more like an outhouse or a toolshed than a respectful place for the wealthy family who have been buried there. On the way to the gravesite, the mourners pass by gravestones with Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German and Hungarian inscriptions carved on them. Lots of the gravestones are ornately carved with symbols like blessing hands, candelabrum or pitchers, or for children’s graves, lambs or sawn tree trunks. It is possible to count how many had died during the influenza epidemic of 1918. That year was, according to the narrator, one of the terrible years that forever tarnish the memory of the twentieth century.

Summary: Section 9

The everyman stands at the grave with his relatives, holding his daughter Nancy’s hand, with his sons Randy and Lonny behind him. It is physically difficult for him in his post-surgery state to deal with his father’s death. Howie helps support him by holding him at the waist. The everyman watches his father’s coffin being lowered into the grave next to his mother. It is hard for him to understand their absence from life. His father had run his store from 1933-1974, where he had worked hard for his children’s future. He had been generous with credit in order not to scare off Christian customers, and though he never checked credit, his business did not suffer, and his flexibility generated lots of good will. He took care to decorate the store well, especially at Christmastime, but the cleverest thing was the name he chose for it: Everyman’s Jewelry Store. The everyman’s father had told his sons that it was important for working people to buy and own a diamond. It provided status and beauty, and was something that never perished. When asked why he left the shop he had worked at before and opened his own place, he would say it was because he wanted to leave something for his two sons.

Summary: Section 10

At the grave, the everyman notices two upright shovels. He thinks they will be used later by gravediggers to fill in the grave of his father, but according to traditional Jewish rites, this is the mourners’ task. Howie had known about this but failed to tell the everyman. Howie begins filling in the grave in a thoughtful way. It takes about an hour to fill in the grave, with mostly Howie, Howie’s four sons, and the everyman’s sons Randy and Lonny doing the hardest work. It seems to the everyman that the brutal, simple task might never end. He becomes agitated by the idea of his father’s mouth filling up with soil, as if he would not be able to breathe, but there is nothing he or the men working to bury the body can do to stop the process. Even if he jumps into the grave, the everyman thinks, the diggers will just keep going and cover him too. The process is very emotionally fraught for the everyman. He remembers the feeling of watching his father picking up his grandchildren for the first time in the hospital with a look of confused happiness on his face. The everyman finally understands what it means to be buried. He walks away at the head of the procession of mourners with Nancy and Howie, though the memory of the chilling scene follows him, and he can taste the fresh dirt blown about by the breeze for a long time on the way back to New York.

Analysis

The narrative switches focus back on to the rituals surrounding burial and the centrality of family. The everyman is in the cemetery for his father’s burial, the place where his mother and his grandparents have also been laid to rest, and that we as readers know he too will be buried. The sense of continuity, of death and burial in the same location as a chain linking family members, is not presented as anything remarkable. The cemetery is full of other bodies and has itself submitted to dilapidation and decay. Yet it is not presented as simply a vision of the grotesque. Many of the graves are ornate, even beautiful, suggesting the care and grief of those left behind by their loved one’s passing. The mass death of the Spanish influenza victims who are interred there is counted alongside the other terrible deaths, and years of death, that filled the twentieth century. Death, while terrible, is unavoidable and even routine. The novel positions death as a kind of communal activity. We mourn the dead at a funeral, and later die ourselves, to join with all who have gone before.

The fact that death is a shared fate and a kind of inheritance provides continuity in life. Following his operation, the everyman is too weak to stand unaided at his father’s grave. Howie must hold him up. In this way, the brothers are physically connected. When the everyman struggles to understand the fact that his parents are no longer alive, and begins to remember his father’s shop, he is taking his place as another link in the chain, from the living to the dead, from the present to the past. He and his brother function as the keepers of their parents’ memory in the world of the living. Their sons are the next in the line of the chain. At the same time, the gravestones which will mark the graves of their parents function in a similar way to Howie and the everyman, that is, to keep the memory of the dead alive and above ground. Howie and the everyman, with their immediate connection to the deceased, are now the closest members of the family in the death’s chain of succession.

Two interesting details from the everyman’s recollection of his father’s shop tell us about the motif of impermanence in the novel. One is that the everyman’s father names his shop Everyman’s Jewelry Store. This is to advertise the intent to sell to everyone. In keeping with this idea, the everyman’s father extends credit freely to avoid alienating potential customers who might be prejudiced against a name belonging to a different ethnic group from theirs, or who may not be able to afford his pieces. The second detail is the motif of the diamond. The everyman’s father’s customer base is mostly working-class and lower-middle-class families, and he understands that it is meaningful for people without much money to be able to purchase diamonds. For the everyman’s father, diamonds are an indestructible portion of the earth though the wearer of the diamond themselves will die one day. The word “imperishable” is used three times in three successive sentences. Diamonds will long outlast a human being, but owning them metaphorically lends a little of their immortality to their wearer.