Everyman

by: Philip Roth

Sections 11-14

Summary Sections 11-14

Summary: Section 11

For nine more years the everyman is healthy. Then in 1998, he suffers an obstruction of his renal artery, which is fixed with a stent. He is sixty-five, just retired, and goes on Medicare, begins to collect Social Security, and writes a will. After the September 11 attacks, he moves from Manhattan to the Starfish Beach retirement village at the Jersey Shore, close to where his family had once taken their vacations every summer. The everyman turns his living room in the complex into an art studio and slips into a comfortable, active daily routine. The only thing he misses about his life in New York is Nancy, who is recently divorced. He wants Nancy and her two four-year-old children to join him at the Jersey Shore. They will have a better quality of life there and be safe from possible terrorist attacks.

Summary: Section 12

A year after the renal stent, the everyman has another operation, this time for an obstruction in his left carotid artery. The operation is not as serious as the others the everyman has been through, though he does not have as much moral support at this time. Nancy is busy with work and looking after her children. The everyman does not want to disrupt Howie’s busy life either. The operation will allow him to be out of the hospital the next morning, and his surgeon assures him he will recover quickly. In the calm waiting room, a man starts up a strange conversation with the everyman, telling him about the terrible misfortunes of his life. The everyman chooses to have local anesthetic for the surgery, and because of this the operation is claustrophobic and alarming, but he endures it. When he checks out of the hospital the next day, he lies and says a friend is taking him home. He drives himself back to his condo and bursts into tears.

Summary: Section 13

The everyman’s health gives way, and every year he has to be hospitalized. A year after the carotid artery surgery, a doctor discovers that the everyman has had a silent heart attack. Nancy is with him, and provides comfort and reassurance. To keep calm during his angioplasties (a procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries), the everyman pictures his father’s store in great detail, listing the makes and design of watches his father had stocked. The year after the stents are inserted, he has to have a permanent defibrillator installed. Nancy comes with him for this procedure. When the everyman shows her the bulge created by the defibrillator, Nancy is horrified but the everyman remains calm. The everyman thinks back to Nancy’s time as a track star when she is thirteen. He gives up swimming so he and Nancy can run together. During a meet, Nancy is severely injured. While in recovery, she hits puberty and is no longer able to run as fast as she had before. Her championship dreams are over. Following this, Nancy’s parents go through a divorce. The impact of seeing the defibrillator on her father makes Nancy relive these painful experiences, and she tells the everyman how she had long hoped that he and her mother Phoebe would get back together. All the everyman can do is tell Nancy to take reality as it is.

Summary: Section 14

Lonely, the everyman begins to feel as if he is close to the end of his life. Instead of moving back to Manhattan, he decides to engage more with the world around him, and organizes painting classes for the retirement village residents. One of the everyman’s best students, Millicent Kramer, has a bad back and rests in his bedroom. One day he hears her crying, and goes in. Millicent’s recently deceased husband Gerald Kramer was an opinionated, outgoing former newspaper publisher. When he was stricken with brain cancer, the difference in his circumstances damaged his sense of self. Since her husband’s death and with the onset of recurrent back pain, Millicent’s quality of life has diminished. Millicent feels ashamed at her helplessness and tears, and is embarrassed by who she is as an ill person. The everyman understands this point of view and tries to comfort her. Ten days later, Millicent kills herself with an overdose of sleeping pills. The everyman announces that due to a change of plans he will not be able to run his popular painting courses until the next fall.

Analysis

One of the everyman’s strongest fears is succumbing too soon to death. While he is stoic about the suffering he undergoes through continual surgeries and the indignities of old age, he worries about dying in a hypothetical terrorist attack. His anxiety and choice to move away from New York is a direct response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. This worry is a reflection of the everyman’s averageness. It is likely that in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, fear of another terrorist attack went through the heads of many people living in New York City. The everyman moves to the Jersey Shore, which he used to visit during childhood vacations. This move marks a retreat from the harsh unknowable realities of life towards a place of safety, that is, the known world of the past and of childhood. Once in his new retirement community, the everyman establishes a routine designed to maximize both his mental well-being and his health, in order to further secure himself in the world of the living. Despite his efforts, life continues to prove unpredictable, isolating, and marred by suffering and death.