The everyman

The unnamed protagonist of the novel. He is dead at the opening of the novel. He is married three times, and each marriage ends due to his affairs with other women. Only one of his three children, his daughter Nancy, has a good relationship with him. The everyman works as a successful art director at a well-regarded advertising firm in New York City, before retiring early out of ill health. He is deeply afraid of the oblivion that faces him after death. However, throughout multiple surgeries on his arteries, the everyman tries to maintain a stoic, accepting outlook on life, particularly to reassure those around him.

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The protagonist’s older brother. It is through Howie’s eulogy to the everyman that we first learn of the everyman’s childhood and the factors which shaped his outlook on life. Loving, kindly, and loyal, Howie, unlike his brother, remains married to one woman his whole life and stays on good terms with his four sons. Howie rises up the ranks at Goldman Sachs to become a very wealthy and successful man, and uses his money to look after the everyman in any way he can.

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The everyman’s only daughter by his second wife, Phoebe. The everyman views Nancy as a pure force of good, though at times her naïve belief in the goodness of others leads her into poor judgement. Her weak, order-loving husband left her in the chaos after the birth of their twins. She is one of the few female characters to remain beside the everyman even as his behavior leads him toward isolation.

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The everyman’s second wife, and the mother of Nancy. Candid, unaffected and with an elegant but straightforward, almost child-like beauty, Phoebe is the woman the everyman most regrets losing. Having suffered from severe migraines, Phoebe is able to deal in a calm and reassuring manner with the everyman’s own illnesses. After she suffers a debilitating stroke, the everyman regrets the loss of her eloquent manners of speech, even though she also used it to express her anguish and humiliation at his affairs.

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The everyman’s day nurse. Buxom, brash, and kindly, Maureen carries on an affair with the everyman and lends the everyman her vitality and sexual strength to help him recover from a serious operation and the death of his father. She enjoys the stares of men and is unafraid of the judgements of Merete, the everyman’s wife at the time.


The everyman’s third and final wife. Merete is beautiful, vain and utterly unable to provide the everyman with the support he needs during his illness. Merete is a young model when the everyman, still married to Phoebe, begins their affair. In their early days Merete’s daring self-possession and stunning good looks are a source of power to the everyman, but after they are married, the negative side of Merete’s character emerges, such as her financial debts, her morbid fear of sickness, and her weakness under pressure.


The everyman’s oldest son by his first wife Cecilia. Like his brother Lonny, he harbors a deep and intractable hatred for the father who left him, Lonny and their mother. Both he and Lonny are unable to understand that they are not the only people in the world to experience hardship. They are both described as handsome men beginning to thicken with age.


The everyman’s second son by his first wife Cecilia. Like his brother Randy, he hates his father. The everyman believes that Lonny and Randy hate him to the point that they would relish his death, though we see this is not the case by both Lonny and Randy’s awkwardness at the funeral. Lonny is distinguishable from Randy only by his hesitation to drop a clod of earth on the everyman’s grave as they both stand beside it.


The everyman’s first wife, and Randy and Lonny’s mother. Cecelia barely appears in the novel and is mostly described in relation to other two wives. She is prone to angry outbursts. The everyman leaves her for the more stable and accommodating Phoebe.

Olive Parrott

The night nurse supplied by Howie after one of the everyman’s operations. Olive Parrott is a large Black woman with the bearing of Eleanor Roosevelt. At night, Olive tells the everyman stories about her life as a child on the avocado farm in her lovely voice.

Millicent Kramer

One of the everyman’s painting students at the retirement community and recent widow of Gerald Kramer. She is above average in her artistic abilities and reminds the everyman of Phoebe in her appearance. Unlike Phoebe, Millicent is unable to face illness and mortality. Feeling lonely and humiliated by her physical and mental weakness, she kills herself. She serves mostly to spur the everyman into facing mortality and to thinking through (and ultimately rejecting) the idea of suicide.

Gerald Kramer

Millicent Kramer’s recently deceased husband and another resident of the retirement community. An opinionated, outgoing former newspaper publisher and owner, Gerald lost his sense of identity when illness took away his independence.

Ezra Pollock

The accounting executive of the everyman’s firm. The everyman uses Ezra as an alibi for his affairs. While terminally ill, Ezra talks cheerfully with the everyman about writing his memoirs. He dies of cancer at 70.


Nancy’s Antiguan nanny for her two children.

Brad Karr

A creative supervisor and former colleague of the everyman. Brad is hospitalized for suicidal depression. It is unclear whether he can remember how long he has been in hospital or anything of the memories the everyman speaks about with him.

Clarence Spraco

The everyman’s former boss. Clarence dies of a myocardial infarct after having been ill for many years. A clear-eyed and much-loved figure, he supported the everyman in his early career, recognizing his talent and promoting him above his peers.

Gwen Spraco

Clarence Spraco’s widow. Although recently bereaved, she maintains a modestly upbeat conversation with the everyman when he calls her to send his sympathies after her husband dies.

The gravedigger

A strong, diligent, hardworking man of about fifty. The everyman meets the gravedigger at the cemetery. He tells the everyman in great detail all about the processes involved in his job, but is more concerned with life than with death. He enjoys working with his son, and tries his hardest to make the graves look as good as they can for the sake of mourners and the dead.

The everyman’s mother and father

Unnamed in the novel, they appear mostly in the everyman’s childhood memories. His father owns a jewelry shop called Everyman’s Jewelry Store. A Yiddish speaker, the everyman’s father is a generous and savvy businessman who is methodical in his work and later in life becomes more religious. The everyman’s mother calmly provides comfort to the everyman as a child as he faces his hernia surgery. Their bones, buried in the cemetery, provide a touchstone of familial memories and a source of assurance and continuity to the everyman before his final operation.