The paper analyzes the concept of death as described by Philip Roth in his play Everyman. Using the examples from the text, this work discusses various cases of the observation of death and their influences on the health and attitudes of the protagonist. Moreover, the paper provides an outline of various interpretations and perceptions of death, depending on the social context and individual values. Furthermore, this research investigates the differences in the treatment of death, according to various points of view, among which physiological, emotional, psychological, and religious perspectives are presented. The paper concludes that Everyman by Philip Roth follows the religious interpretation of death and presents it as an opportunity for humans to find their inner harmony, confess their sins, and achieve eternal life with God. This belief claims that death is not an event that should evoke pity or sorrow since it is not the end but the continuation of human existence in a new dimension.
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Topic: Discuss the authors perception of death and the treatment of death in Everyman.
Thesis Statement: Death should not evoke sympathy or fear, as it is a powerful tool to rethink earthly life and approach the holy idea of salvation and repentance.
Perception of Death in Everyman
A) The physiological perception of death: death as something opposed to health, happiness, vitality, and human power;
B) Death as something unknown and irrevocable: the perception of death in terms of human capacities and limits of imagination;
C) The perception of death as a personal choice or individual decision: the case of suicide;
D) The perception of death from the Catholic point of view: death as a tool of salvation and eternal life.
Treatment of Death in Everyman
A) The physiological perspective on death: the treatment of death as disability;
B) Death as a threat to the emotional, psychological, and cosmological existence of humans;
C) Death in religion: a continuation and path for salvation.
Death: The End or a New Beginning?
Many writers have attempted to depict the concept of death in their works, paying attention to different aspects of this phenomenon in culture and society. One of such works is Everyman by P. Roth, described as a morality play due to its spiritual context and ethical implications (Shostak, 2014). Indeed, the play greatly contributes to the discussion of numerous problems and dilemmas such as life, happiness, death, piety, hard work, and so on. Everyman thoroughly and skillfully depicts the peculiarities of earthly life and human efforts to reach imaginary salvation. The protagonist represents an ordinary person with all aspirations, fears, ideas, values, and desires. The play also provides a meaningful and important insight into the life path of every human and its inevitable ending. Special attention should be paid to the issue of death in Everyman and the way author presents it to the readers. In this play, the concept of death is regarded as an irrevocable end of life, a way of desirable salvation, and the only thing that is not managed by human desires and imaginations. Therefore, Everyman teaches that death should not evoke sympathy or fear since it is a powerful tool to rethink ones earthly life and approach to the holy idea of salvation and repentance.
Perception of Death in Everyman
The protagonist of the play desperately attempts to avoid death, which he regards as oblivion and an absolute ending of life. Despite his attempts, the concept and image of death chases him throughout his life, bringing new thoughts and attitudes to this process (Shostak, 2016). The very beginning of the play describes the image of burial of Everyman and shows the corresponding emotions and mood (Roth, 2010). Thus, readers can sense the atmosphere of tragedy, sorrow, condolence, and decline. Such a perception of death is common for the entire play, and it fully transfers the range of human emotions, related to its treatment (Desmond, 2013). At the same time, the author manages to depict various concepts of death and demonstrate a variety of its meanings and notions.
Secondly, the everyman meets death in the face of his colleagues disease. In this case, death is described as the opposition to power, strength, and health. The everymans former colleague Ezra Pollock dies slowly and painfully due to the physiological disease, which is terminal cancer, and age (Roth, 2010). In such a light, death appears as an inevitable end of physiological health and the abilities of humans. Notably, such a perception of death highlights its irrevocable character and human helplessness in avoiding or preventing it (Desmond, 2013). At the same time, perceiving death in this light is important for the understanding of all negative emotions and attitudes that surround it. At the same time, there is another important aspect of its perception since death is associated with suffering and pain. In these terms, death is the contradiction of happiness and vitality, which is so aspired by all characters in the play (Shostak, 2014). Consequently, the perception of death as an inevitable and painful experience and limitation of opportunities is another important aspect in Everyman.
Thirdly, death is viewed as something unknown and mysterious that is difficult to guess and solve. Every time, when the everyman observes death of his relatives or former colleagues, he cannot find any valid explanation and justification of the process. He also wonders about the consequences of death, but he cannot find any answers (Roth, 2010). Apparently, this characteristic of death is the key aspect, identifying the negative and terrifying image of this natural process (Jaffe-Foger, 2014). Roth (2010) states that everyone thinks at some time or other that in a hundred years no one now alive will be on earth – the overwhelming force will sweep the place clean (p. 168). The impossibility to predict future and look ahead of death creates a false perception of decease as a negative and terrifying phenomenon that ruins human identity and leads to ones complete decline.
Apart from that, the author shows that death can be perceived as a personal choice and individual decision. One of the everymans students at the retirement village is a widow, suffering from some mental and physiological disorders (Shostak, 2016). Finally, she ends her life by committing suicide. Once again, the everyman observes death and its terrifying effects that make him feel oppressed and helpless (Jaffe-Foger, 2014). However, this particular case of death represents another perception and vision. In such a situation, death is portrayed as an individual choice of a retired person who does not find another solution for herself. The author does not praise this decision, although it is important for the comprehension of deaths perception in general. This shows how it becomes a personal cure and self-actualization under certain events in ones life (Desmond, 2013). In such a way, the play represents various perceptions of death, depending on the context and individual situation of development.
Finally, it is important to mention the case of the everymans fathers death. He died slowly due to the disease that gradually took away all his power and willingness to live. Under such conditions, the everymans father turns to religion and starts perceiving death as a continuation rather than the end (Moran, 2015). According to the Catholic outlook, described by the author in this play, death is a chance to reach Heaven and eternal peace with God (Shostak, 2014). Moreover, decease is also an opportunity to confess earthly sins and achieve divine salvation as well as reconciliation with God (Desmond, 2013). Such ideas, although unfamiliar for the everyman, tend to evoke doubts in his perception of death and provide a new perspective of this phenomenon. In fact, the perception of death as continuation and way to the eternal life is another bright depiction of it, presented in this play.
Overall, numerous depictions of death and its perception by humans are observed in Everyman. The author provides its various interpretations and perceptions, based on individual, social, cultural, religious, and emotional implications. Interestingly, there is no single perception of death, and the attitudes towards it change throughout ones life. However, the author is certain that death is not a mere decline or the end of human capacities and abilities. Rather, the very thinking of death and its experiencing are the evident tools for reaching harmony, realizing the sense of life, and striving to salvation.
Treatment of Death in Everyman
It is possible to distinguish several main attitudes to death, as presented by the author in Everyman. Based on the perceptions and depictions of death, the author comes to the following conclusions about the treatments of death, exposed in human life. First, from the physiological point of view, death is treated as a disability. The everyman sees his father and colleague dying because of a disease and physiological disorders. He himself undergoes many surgical operations and experiences problems with health that are inevitably associated with death. In all such cases, the everyman admits that death is the decline of physiological capacities, abilities and strengths of humans (Jaffe-Foger, 2014). Moreover, it leaves not choice and possibility, as it affects the vitality and desire of people to live by ruining their welfare and well-being. In this light, it is not surprising that death is treated with some many negative emotions and feelings (Jaffe-Foger, 2014). The awareness of individual limitations and lack of choice create a pessimistic and doomed impression of death and cause such a negative attitude towards it.
Secondly, from the psychological point of view, decease is regarded as a threat. The everyman constantly thinks about the future after death and muses the ideas of oblivion and neglect. As a human, he is quite afraid of disappearing and leaving no memories or recollection for the next generations. Death evokes associations with oblivion and disappearance, thus threatening the major psychological instinct of survival (Jaffe-Foger, 2014). The everyman hesitates: the life that surrounded me! The force that was mine! No “otherness” to be felt anywhere! Once upon a time I was a full human being (Roth, 2010, p. 130). These doubts reflect on his fear of oblivion and anxiety of death as a path to disappearance. Moreover, psychologically, people tend to doubt and question things and phenomena that are unfamiliar and unknown for them. Evidently, nothing can compare to death in terms of mystery and the sense of unknown. Humans can only imagine its consequences and reflect on potential continuation. The fear of uncertainty, obscurity, and ambiguity explains why dying is a threat for the existence and limitation of human mind. Thus, such a treatment of death is the result of human attempts to protect them from oblivion.
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On the other hand, the paradigm of religious perspective allows treating death as salvation. Throughout his life, the everyman does not confess any religion, having doubts in its importance and reliability. Roth (2010) describes it as:
Religion was a lie that he had recognized early in life, and he found all religions offensive, considered their superstitious folderol meaningless, childish, couldn’t stand the complete unadultness the baby talk and the righteousness and the sheep, the avid believers. (p. 51).
However, as the everyman grows, experiences new things, and observes cases of deaths, he tends to change his opinion and pay more attention to the religious interpretation of this phenomenon (Moran, 2015). Catholicism views death a path of salvation, the only opportunity to reach reconciliation with God and obtain eternal life in Heaven. Thus, dying is not a terrifying or scary experience for those who believe in God and wait for the eternal life. Respectively, death is chance to confess sins and forget all the pain and problems of daily life.
It is also important to mention that treatment of death since salvation should not be linked exclusively to certain religions. When his life approaches its end, the everyman suddenly feels harmony and peace when he observes the monotonous work of the gravedigger (Roth, 2010). the man realizes that death is a natural phenomenon that presents a new opportunity or a new life (Schermbrucker, 2015). Moreover, it is a way to avoid useless problems, forget daily worries or illnesses, and find a new beginning. This approach clearly shows that death is not a reason for sadness or sympathy since it offers a fresh start and new opportunities.
Overall, in Everyman, the author demonstrates different approaches to the interpretation of such a phenomenon of death. The author states that despite the popular conventional beliefs about dying, this notion should not be associated merely with some tragic events and consequences. On the contrary, death is the amplification of human power and the continuation of existence in a new form. There is no reason to be worried about it or consider it as an inevitable ending and oblivion. Rather, death is the final chance for repentance and confession of earthly sins. Philip Roth perpetuates this idea throughout his play, emphasizing the religious attitudes and outlook.
To sum up, the play Everyman by Philip Roth provides a deep analysis of such a sensitive and important topic of the death. To a great extent, the author applies the Catholic interpretation and treatment of decease in his play, although some other motives can be observed as well. The protagonist of the play undergoes a long way in his perception and understanding of death as he is influenced by his beliefs and external experiences. Traditionally, death is regarded as a tragic event since nobody and nothing cannot prevent or avoid it. Death is the opposition to happiness, life, emotions, and willingness to live. However, it is the way to reach salvation, both for individuals and society in general. Therefore, the author concludes that death is a significant tool for reaching eternity and confessing the sins of the earthly life.