Everyman

by: Philip Roth

Sections 11-14

Summary Sections 11-14

We also learn that the everyman wishes to protect and provide for Nancy and her young family from both imagined future attacks and from the difficulties of life in a single-parent family. The everyman’s desire to protect Nancy from death and suffering comes from their close family connection, as he wishes to save his own link in the chain of life, and because he views Nancy as a pure and kind person who makes the world a better place by being in it. Nancy is perhaps the best gift he has given the world. We have a glimpse of Nancy’s husband who left her to return to his quiet hometown to escape the chaos of raising twins. In this selfishness, he resembles the everyman himself. The everyman, however, did not always leave his relationships to seek ease or comfort, but because his desires caused him to make impulsive and hurtful choices regarding the women in his life. He is in part trying to protect Nancy because he could not protect her from the fallout of his affairs or from painful accidents when she was younger and more vulnerable.

In these sections, the narrative touches on the consolations of having a patient and accepting attitude towards suffering. The everyman endures the indignities of his various operations, including waking to find that medical equipment is still attached to his body by mistake and having to lie completely still for hours immediately following an operation. When he is alone, his suffering is greater. We see this when the masked faces of the surgeons bring to mind the everyman’s greatest fear, terrorists, and later, when, exhausted after driving himself home after an operation, he bursts into tears. Still, he doesn’t complain. He focuses on concrete details to ease himself through operations, and sticks to his routines to maintain as best he can his quality of life. When Nancy is alarmed by his newly fitted defibrillator, the everyman is able to fall back on a stoic outlook that suggests taking each incident in life as it comes and reacting without undue paranoia.

The everyman’s attitude towards suffering contrasts with Millicent Kramer and her husband’s reaction to aging and loss. While lying on the everyman’s bed during a bout of severe pain, Millicent ineffectually tries to hide her back brace. The back brace is a reminder to the everyman of the undeniable and looming presence of death and illness. For Millicent, the back brace is something shameful. Both Millicent and her husband defined themselves by self-sufficiency and independence of thought and body, so much so that reliance on others is deeply embarrassing and leads to anger, depression, and a loss of sense of self. Millicent is so overwhelmed by her emotional response to pain that she is not helped by either the everyman’s concrete offers of help, such as water or a heating pad, or by sharing the burden of her suffering through speaking of it to the everyman. For her, daily life is hellish.

Millicent and her husband’s inability to cope is not something the everyman dismisses as weakness. He does not view his own accepting attitude as superior and he doesn’t view tears or complaints as anything out of the ordinary. His other painting students bond over their illnesses, and these become a form of identification by which the residents know each other and chart their own passage through their last years. This is not something the everyman himself does. Millicent actively appears to resist aligning herself with her pain, seeing it as an upsetting and remorseless force, changing her without her wishes into someone limited by their body rather than living through it. At the same time, she does not see herself as unusual or special, much as the everyman does not view his life or illnesses as in any way atypical. So when Millicent ends her life to escape her suffering and loneliness, the everyman is rocked to his core. Millicent is an example of the kind of person the everyman could quite easily have become if not for the stoic outlook passed on to him by his father which helps guide him through the indignity of pain.