Everyman

by: Philip Roth

The everyman

Characters The everyman

The everyman is first introduced being buried by his friends and loved ones in a cemetery in New Jersey. The character of this unnamed dead man is revealed initially through the speeches and behaviors of mourners, then, after the first section, in non-linear, interweaving episodes that closely follow his perspective on the events of his life. These fragments make up the heart of the novel and provide a portrait of an individual. The everyman was a contented child, raised in a family who, though not rich, loved him. He goes on to become a successful advertising director, a terrible family man, and afflicted throughout much of his adulthood by poor health. A womanizer who brought about the end of three marriages due to his unfaithfulness, the everyman values the women in his life by how much comfort they can provide before, during and after his many surgeries. He isolates himself from his two sons Randy and Lonny, who refuse to forgive him for leaving their mother Cecelia, though his daughter Nancy remains loyal to him.

The everyman is an atheist and in particular a materialist, convinced of the importance of only what he can see and touch. Comfort comes not from the idea of God or a moral framework of how to be good, but from the reassurance of his and others’ healthy bodies, stoicism, and especially, nostalgia. His nostalgia is rooted in the intricate details of his life, from swimming in the bright, chilly ocean as a boy, to remembering the brands and appearance of the watches in his father’s shop, to eyeing attractive women who remind him of his former youthfulness. The everyman understands existence through his body, to the point that he believes that if he wrote a book about his life it would be titled The Life and Death of the Male Body. Deeply lonely at the end of his life, having isolated himself from his supportive brother Howie, the everyman must face his mortality alone both without the security of human connections or the belief in an afterlife. He dies after a seemingly insignificant choice to go under general rather than local anesthetic in his final operation, revealing his essential helplessness in the face of death.

The everyman is presented as an individual with distinct life experiences, but at the same time, we can see him as representative of the whole of humanity. The title of the book is Everyman, not the name of the character, which we never learn. A man without a name is harder to see as an individual person. Added to this, the everyman refers to himself throughout the novel as average in every way, a man no different than any other in how he behaves or suffers. We, like the everyman, will die some day and likely against our wishes. Roth’s everyman has no belief in the spiritual framework of salvation and has little insight into the morality of his own choices. In this way, the work of evaluating his life falls into the hands of the reader. The dead everyman exists in the novel as a subject to be understood from the details of his life.