§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Everyman by Philip Roth

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Everyman by Philip Roth

Clearly Roth is writing the contemporary equivalent of a medieval morality play, confronting the deterioration and death of an ordinary man. The book starts with the burial of the hero. Apropos of the title, we don’t even know his name. It’s an old, not-very-well-kept-up cemetery by a freeway near Elizabeth, N. J., the typical Roth milieu—New Jersey, that is, not the cemetery. In the last episode of the novel before his death, the hero visits that same cemetery. His parents are buried there. He looks for them. He engages a gravedigger in conversation and learns some particularities of the business of digging graves—largely done by hand because the cemetery is no longer popular, but he also learns that the gravedigger takes pride in his work and is glad to know who dug his parents' graves. And of course every morality play worthy of its salt has a gravedigger.

After the internment, the novel goes back to the time when the boy goes to the hospital with his mother to have a hernia repaired. He is 8 years old. The child in the bed next to him dies. He is frightened to sleep without his parents. Thereafter every serious illness is recorded in the kind of detail one gets when one falls into the clutches of doctors and hospitals. The deterioration of the body is recorded in some detail. So are the major events and people in his life. How, you’ll ask, in 192 pages? That probably is the genius of this work, that, not intending a family saga, Roth selects so wisely that the reader nevertheless sees Roth's hero with all his warts—and also with all his humanity.

What Roth does that medieval morality plays don’t do is deal with humans confronting death in the absence of religion or a belief in an afterlife. Our everyman stopped going to the synagogue immediately after his bar mitzvah. Posted by Picasa


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