The main themes in Everyman are judgement after death, the value of life, and religion.
- Judgement and Death: Everyman's struggle to accept and prepare himself for his imminent death and judgment reflects human fears surrounding death. Ultimately, people can only bring their good deeds with them to stand judgment.
- Value of Life: Though Christians believe in fostering community, they ultimately face God alone, as individuals. Consequently, one's way of life takes on enormous importance.
- Religion: Everyman is a Christian allegory that reinfoces the idea that material possessions and earthly wealth do not matter in the eyes of God; instead, people must live godly lives.
Last Updated on May 15, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
Everyman reflects the strongly Catholic ideal that only through one’s good deeds can the Kingdom of Heaven be attained. Its populist message and colorful, emotional stage presence made it a very successful and admired work in its time.
The play is told through allegory, which creates characters of those aspects of Everyman’s life that he deems most important. Although Everyman is rejected by Fellowship, Cousin, Kindred, and Goods, the play does not deem these relationships irrelevant or antithetical to a good Christian existence. Indeed, Fellowship, Cousin, and Kindred are all sympathetic figures; though they abandon Everyman as his death looms, this desertion is as much part of the natural process and reality of death as it is a reflection of every person’s fear of their own mortality. (Goods represents the shallower, more materialistic side of Everyman and is thus depicted in a worse light than the other figures in the play.)
While Everyman does not decry the relationships the protagonist has with his fellow human beings, the play demonstrates that it is the relationships within one’s self and with God that are most important and lead to the road of salvation. Interestingly, Everyman’s path to judgment comes not through the justification of faith, a later, more Protestant ideal, but rather through the strength of his Good Deeds and the sincerity of his confession, a staunchly Catholic notion proper for the time the play was composed.
The loss of Everyman’s more personal characteristics, including his Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five Wits, reflects the process of aging in human beings. They—physical appearance and health—flee when confronted with old age and death. Even Knowledge abandons Everyman, although it is his knowledge of confession and, ultimately, of God that opens the path toward Everyman’s salvation.
Everyman reminds the audience of the path to God according to the medieval Catholic Church. The allegorical tale turns every member of the audience into the protagonist, crossing boundaries of class and gender, to prove that all men are equal when they stand in judgment before God and that only an individual’s good deeds matter on the journey to salvation.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711
Alienation and Loneliness
As Everyman is abandoned by Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods, he begins to feels increasingly isolated and alone. When his overtures to Fellowship are rejected, Everyman thinks that surely his family will stand by him as he faces his final judgment. Instead, what he discovers is that every man must face God's judgment alone. Earthly friendships and family are left behind in such a situation, and man is never more isolated than in facing death.
Atonement and Forgiveness
When Everyman is feeling most afraid and alone, he is given the opportunity to atone for his sins. The recognition of his sin, provided by Knowledge, leads to his meeting with Confession and to penance. The medieval Christian tradition is that man must seek atonement for earthly sins, but that God's forgiveness is always available to those who truly repent. At the end of Everyman, forgiveness is given freely and Everyman is prepared to meet God.
Everyman has placed his faith in friends and family. They have been his companions throughout life and each initially indicates their willingness to accompany him on a journey—Fellowship even vows to accompany his friend to Hell. But Fellowship and Kindred are both afraid of the real hell; both decline Everyman's invitation when they learn he is going to meet God's final judgement. This indicates that man will always be betrayed by earthly companions, since each man is ultimately selfish and must confront God alone. Their betrayal of Everyman serves a purpose, however, as their rejection forces him to search for greater truths.
Death is the means by which man finally meets God. It is impending death that forces Everyman to consider his life and his accomplishments. Like most men, Everyman is unprepared for death and seeks extra time. In this respect he is like all men, who would plead for time to make final plans and, most importantly, to make peace with God. Generally, most Christian religions suggest that death is not to be feared, but that a better, eternal existence will be known as a result of death. Still, the approach of death is often the most frightening experience that man will face. Everyman is no exception to this idea.
God and Religion
Plays such as Everyman are intended to help reinforce the importance of God and religion in people's lives. In this play, God represents salvation, but it is religion that provides the means to achieve that salvation. Like most drama of the medieval period, the focus of this play is how religion and a belief in God will help man overcome any travail, including death. Although God appears as a character only at the beginning of the play, his presence is felt throughout as Everyman begins to recognize his need for help beyond the earthly realm.
According to Catholic belief, it is man's accounting of himself and his good deeds that will provide admittance to heaven. Thus it is only Good Deeds who can accompany Everyman on his final journey. When faced with God's judgment, man's riches, the notoriety of his friends, and the importance of his family will not speak for his worth. Only the good deeds that a man does here on earth can speak for him before God. Accordingly, good deeds is more important than faith in achieving salvation.
When abandoned by his friends, it is Knowledge that leads Everyman to the help he needs. It is knowledge that helps man to recognize and understand how he has sinned. It is knowledge that permits him to recognize deception and falsehoods. And finally, it is knowledge that allows Everyman to find the way to Confession and penance. If it is only his good deeds that can save man, it is knowledge that allows man to recognize the importance of good deeds in finding salvation.
Sin is the reason for this play. It is sin that angers God in the opening lines. As a theme, sin is central, since it is Everymen's sins that force his final judgment. He has sinned much in his life, and the audience is told that his sins are so great that Good Deeds is immobile. Only when he can recognize and renounce his sins can Everyman be saved.
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