Submitted by Attila Mislai


Everyman by Philip Roth

There is a silent desperation that keeps haunting the main character in Roth's excellent novel. Nothing dramatic, nothing hysterical, not even conscious for the most part, still, it proves to be enough to deprive him slowly the capacity to enjoy the tastes of his nonchalant, easygoing life. Nothing seems to help, neither his proudly professed stoicism ("Just take it as it comes. Hold your ground and take it as it comes. There is nothing more we can do."), nor the graceful, epicurean wantonness in which he was never idle to splash about ("God is death, so why not take the world as being a playground for me.")

As we see him through the events of his life that turns out every bit impeccably ordinary, an awkward, grim suspicion begins to gradually nestle itself in the reader: the story is actually a harrowing parable about what immensely estranged man could grow when putting all his energy into multifarious attemps to escape from the truth of mortality.

The cost is high. Everything that makes life liveable and authentic (relationship, creativity, compassion) will lost. This perspective can help us grasp the highly symbolic significance of the protagonist's seemingly common death: he dies unexpectedly in a senseless, comatose state (condition of avydia per excellence) while being operated on because of his ailing heart (the failing centre of his being).

If one tried to enter this sad, meaningless, barren odyssey - where the hero falls through the adventures of his life, one after the other, without becoming able to come any nearer to his true home - with some therapeutic intention (though it sounds pathetic and somewhat ludicrous in terms of a fictional character) one could take as a starting point the story of how as a child he first confronts with death: he chances upon the body of a soldier washed ashore. (I don't think it would be overwrought parallelling this with the narrative of how his bumping into the a corpse set the Buddha going.) The path of recovery that may lead everyman to "reclaiming the rapport with himself" (Epstein) runs along the train of his losses. Healing cannot take place without "befriending our disown parts" (Caldwell).

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