Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Philip Roth: Everyman

This short novel starts with a funeral. Friends and family of the departed are gathered, standing by a grave in a Jewish Cemetery. The most remarkable observation is just how ordinary this scene is. The most obvious fact of our life is that one day, we too will have died. This fictional beginning is paradoxical. This fictional beginning touches upon the end of our facticity.

The book then describes a life of mistakes, of unthinking self interest and ultimately grace. Throughout this very ordinary life, there is no real security as everything is in flux. Broken marriages, sibling rivalry and sexual desire liter the pages, describing a half formed life not fully lived.

There is also an allegorical quality to this work. The main character is a secular Jew. Yet, for all the disasters that happen, allusions are made to the Book of Job. Every disaster signals a stripping away of perceived security.

This allegory links the religiosity of Judaism with a secularist American outlook. Indeed, the title of the book, Everyman, is the name given to a Jewelry shop stripped of a Jewish signifier. This book therefore deals with cultural aspects of Jewish society, describing how one family integrated itself.

Still, it would be wrong to suggest that this is a book is primarily written for American Jews. As the title suggests, the book is for everyman. The disasters described are part of a process of learning humility and finally accepting death.

This small book is poetical. Words grace the pages and read like a hymn.


  1. Interesting blog. Who are you? Mike Livingston

  2. Thanks Mike. I am an unpublished author living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I hope to change that soon...