There was only our bodies, born to live and die on terms decided by the bodies that had lived and died before us. If he could be said to have located a philosophical niche for himself, that was it – he’d come upon it early and intuitively, and however elemental, that was the whole of it.
This passage appears in section 7, when the everyman is about to attend his father’s funeral accompanied by Maureen, the nurse with whom he is having an affair. The everyman considers his father’s turn towards religion towards the end of his life. The everyman’s father has chosen to have his burial service conducted in Hebrew, though the everyman himself does not understand the language and gave up his faith immediately after his bar mitzvah. During hospital stays he takes pains to avoid attracting the attentions of a rabbi by leaving the word ‘Jewish’ off his admission forms, believing that belief in God is a childish fantasy. Instead, he adheres to the materialism of the body, believing bodies to be the only reality and source of continuity in existence. This passage immediately follows into the everyman’s statement that if he were to write an autobiography, it would be called The Life and Death of a Male Body.
If taken in the context of the everyman’s thoughtless affairs (in this case with Maureen) this statement might appear connected most closely with eroticism. The everyman chiefly interacts with the world through his relationship with others, most often destroying these relationships through his sexual behaviors. However, this interpretation is a simplification that ignores the fact that the passage appears immediately before the everyman attends his father’s funeral, and just as he is considering his own attitude to religion and placing himself both at odds with his father and in the same vein as his equally unbelieving brother Howie. Familial continuity is at the heart of the passage, where life relates to the bodies of ancestors that have gone before, or more generally, all human life that has lived and died. Death, then, is key to understanding the everyman’s philosophy. The continuity of bodily life and death form the basis of the everyman’s existential beliefs. Rather than cultural markers, such as knowing Hebrew, or sharing a religion, this is what unites humanity at its most fundamental level.