Everyman

by: Philip Roth

Sections 25-28

Summary: Section 25

Three of the everyman’s former colleagues suffer from poor health in quick succession. A creative supervisor named Brad Karr is hospitalized for suicidal depression. Ezra Pollock has terminal cancer at age seventy. The everyman’s boss Clarence Spraco, who has been ill for many years, has died of a myocardial infarct. The everyman calls Clarence’s wife Gwen to send his condolences and they share some memories of Clarence and of Nancy. Gwen thanks the everyman for calling and tells him the phone has been ringing for two days. She does not feel alone.

Summary: Section 26

The everyman calls Brad Karr’s room at the psychiatric hospital, remembering when he and Brad had worked together as young men on a highly successful commercial campaign. The everyman asks Brad how he is doing. Brad is stoic about his situation though his voice is slow and full of hopelessness. Brad and the everyman reminisce about their careers at the ad agency, which cheers Brad up. He speaks optimistically about his recovery. After hanging up, the everyman is not sure if Brad actually remembered their times together, or if he will make it out of the hospital. He then calls Ezra Pollock. Ezra, though terminally ill, sounds cheerful on the phone. He tells the everyman he has no time to be depressed because he is writing a memoir of the advertising business. They reminisce about working together, make plans to meet for lunch, and discuss Ezra’s pain and treatments. Ezra says that his terminal diagnosis cured him of writer’s block. The everyman tells Ezra he is rooting for him and gives him his number, telling him to call any time. After the exhausting phone calls, all the everyman wants to do is call Nancy and, impossibly, his mother and father.

Summary: Section 27

The everyman goes to the hospital for a check-up. A sonogram reveals that his second carotid artery is obstructed and requires surgery. This will make it the seventh year in a row the everyman has had to be hospitalized. Ezra Pollock has died. The everyman is not too worried about his surgery because he is familiar with the hospital and the surgeon. He does not tell Nancy about the upcoming operation. He tries unsuccessfully to locate Maureen, his former nurse. He thinks of Howie, who he has not called in a long time. The everyman believes he has lost Howie in the same way he lost Phoebe and harmed his children’s peace, through his own actions. He begins to beat his chest in remorse and despair at his pointless, self-harming behavior. Years before, the everyman, Phoebe, and Nancy stayed on Howie’s ranch in Santa Barbara while Howie and his family were on holiday. The everyman wonders if he can ask to stay in the guest room at the ranch for a couple of months while he works out where to go next. He tries to call Howie, but the phone goes to the answering machine. Howie’s youngest son Rob calls back to tell the everyman Howie and his wife are in Tibet. The everyman believes they are in Santa Barbara and Howie simply does not want to take his call. Rob explains that Howie went on business to Hong Kong before going travelling to Tibet and that they will be gone for another three weeks. The everyman politely refuses Rob’s offer of passing on a message by email.

Summary: Section 28

The everyman determines that he will have to manage on his own. At almost three quarters of a century, he now lives with an unforeseen reality that he is no longer alluring to women. He tries not to miss them too much. He once felt that the missing parts of his life would return to make him whole again, but now it is clear that, like other elderly people, he is in the process of losing more of himself and will have to live life to its end through a slow deterioration and melancholy. It is time for him to worry about oblivion.

Analysis

Sections 25 and 26 are defined by the everyman’s attempts to connect with those who are suffering. In each of these conversations, with Gwen, Brad, and Ezra, the everyman cannot fully provide open and honest consolations. With Gwen, the everyman expresses regret that he couldn’t share his fond memories of Clarence for his obituary, while at the same time choosing not to reveal the less morally upright things Clarence did for him, such as provide advice on the everyman’s affair with his secretary. Speaking with Brad, the everyman is aware his former colleague is either lying or confused about how long he has been in the hospital, though he does not press him on this fact. He doubts Brad’s memory and ability to leave the hospital. In truth, their conversation has been surface-level only. After two hard conversations in which the everyman has withheld his feelings to provide consolation, the conversation with Ezra rings false, and we assume he is providing false assurance, just as Ezra is trying to play down his terminal diagnosis. The everyman matches his cheerfulness, but there is no room for honesty except in his own head.

The metaphor of old age as a battle appears twice in these sections. The first time, it is used by Gwen. She tells the everyman of her husband’s exhaustion after his long illnesses. According to her, old age is an unrelenting war that takes place right as a person’s strength is failing them. Instead of agreeing, the everyman changes the subject. Later, worn out and depressed by his attempts to make small talk and remain cheerful for his friends, the everyman rephrases Gwen’s adage. For him, old age is a ubiquitous cruelty, a battle that cannot be won. Everyone he knows who is older has their story of suffering illness and death, and it does not matter whether they faced it with stoicism or blank terror, as everything in the end is taken from them. According to the everyman, old age is worse than a fight, it is a slaughter.