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Everyman -- Discussion Guide

Everyman -- Discussion Guide

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Everyman is a vividly specific and heartrending account of one man’s long skirmish with mortality and a much larger story about the facts of illness and dying that sooner or later must be faced by all.
Everyman is a vividly specific and heartrending account of one man’s long skirmish with mortality and a much larger story about the facts of illness and dying that sooner or later must be faced by all.

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Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Aug 02, 2013
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12/03/2014

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Reading Group Guide
Everyman
By Philip RothThe introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to
enhance your group’s discussion of Pulitzer Prize–winning author Philip Roth’s extraordinary new
novel,
Everyman
.
About the Book
 
“Old age isn’t a battle, old age is a massacre” has become the most frequently quoted line
from
Everyman
. In this brief but expansive novel, Roth turns his gaze on human mortality, offering anintimate yet universal story of loss, regret, and stoicism.Unlike the hero of the fifteenth-century morality play of the same title, a Christian allegory about sin and
redemption in which the hero is summoned by Death to account for his life before God, Roth’s
Everyman, when his health declines, is left to contemplate the fragility of the body and the tenuousnessof existence. As a young boy about to undergo a hernia operation, he is a witness to the death of a childwho shared his hospital room. And as an adult he is besieged by illness: a near-fatal attack of appendicitis, a quintuple bypass operation, and two carotid artery surgeries, the last of which kills him.B
ut while his medieval counterpart fears God, Roth’s hero is certain that God is a fiction, and he
deplores the childishness of religious faith. For him there is no afterlife, no final judgment, no heaven tohope for
only a death that leads to nothingness.For much of his life he tries to be the responsible son his parents expected him to be, to live aconventional and dutiful life as a husband, father, and provider. He is all of these things, as well as a mansusceptible to two of the most common human inclinations, lust and envy. As he grows older, more
fragile, and more lonely, he becomes increasingly envious of his brother Howie’s unabated good health
and ever more conscious of the familial wreckage
painfully embodied in three broken marriages andtwo sons who despise him
he has left behind. His sexual desire now goes unsatisfied, and memoriesof his former prowess serve only to torment him. Nor can he revive for long his ambition to become apainter
put aside while he earned a living as an advertising art director
which he comes to view aslittle more than foolish self-
delusion. He sees himself, near the end of his life, as “thrice divorced, a one
-time serial husband distinguished no less by his devotion than
by his misdeeds and mistakes.”
 
Everyman
 
is a vividly specific and heartrending account of one man’s long skirmish with mortality and a
much larger story about the facts of illness and dying that sooner or later must be faced by all. It is a
testament to Roth’s seemingly inexhaustible crea
tive powers that he invests this story of illness and
death with all the vibrancy that has made him America’s most acclaimed novelist.
 
 
About the Author
 In 1997
Philip Roth
won the Pulitzer Prize for
 American Pastoral 
. In 1998 he received the National Medalof Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters,the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow,among others. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the NationalBook Critics Circle Award.In 2005
The Plot Against America
 
received the Society of American Historians’ prize for “the outstanding
historical novel on an American theme for 2003
 –2004″ and was named a Best Book of the Year by
the
New York Times Book Review 
, the
San Francisco Chronicle
, the
Boston Globe
, the
Chicago Sun-Times
,the
Los Angeles Times Book Review 
, the
Washington Post Book World 
,
Time
,
Newsweek 
, and numerousother periodicals. In the United Kingdom,
The Plot Against America
won the W.H. Smith Award for theBest Book of the Year, making Roth the first writer in the forty-six-year history of the prize to win ittwice.In 2005 Roth also became the third living American writer to have his work published in acomprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. The last of the eight volumes is scheduledfor publication in 2013.
Questions for Discussion
 
1.
How does the twenty-first-century novel
Everyman
significantly diverge in content, form, and intentfrom the fifteenth-century English morality play
Everyman
? In what important ways has Rothmodernized and secularized that medieval text?
2.
What is the relevance of the title to the story that is told in the novel?
3.
What do you learn about the man being buried from the opening scene at the cemetery? What wouldthe book be like if this scene came
as it might if the story were told chronologically
at the endrather than at the beginning?
4.
Describe precisely his predicament with his sons, Lonny and Randy.
5.
Describe precisely his relationship with his daughter, Nancy. What is the nature of 
their 
predicament?
6.
Why does he refuse the consolations of religion despite his sharing in the universal terror of death?
7.
What is his relationship with the dead? a. With his dead parents. b. With Millicent Kramer. c. Withthose of his family who are long dead.

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