All he’d seen then was the casket resting on the belts that spanned the open grave. Plain and modest though it was, it took up the whole world. Then followed the brutality of the burial and the mouth full of dust.
This passage appears in section 30, when the everyman has changed his plans to drive to New York, instead turning off into the cemetery where his parents are buried. At this stage in the narrative, the everyman is just about undergo the operation which will result in his death. In the previous section, he suffers a nightmare that forces him to confront his mortality. The trip to the cemetery marks a continuation of the everyman’s increasing engagement with his future death. When in the cemetery to see his father buried (see section 10), he does not notice the neglected state of his surroundings. As he walks through the cemetery this time though, he notices the way the earth is sunken in and how some of the stones have been knocked over. Present, on his own, and without the rawness of his father’s loss to distract him, the everyman can witness the mundanities of the graveyard and how crowded it is.
The quotation shows that the everyman, on his previous visit, had been focused entirely on the coffin and the traumatic experience of his father’s burial. The coffin appears as “plain and modest” but takes up “the whole world.” This is in keeping with the idea of death and burial as simple facts of life that nevertheless fascinate and horrify in their unavoidability. The everyman’s father chose to be buried by hand by his relatives, in keeping with a Jewish tradition. In the painfully slow process of that burial, the everyman is not able to deny the death of his father, or his father’s bodily removal from the state of living. A mouth full of dust is both physically repulsive and also a natural thing for a corpse buried underground. Even though the everyman has rejected his Jewishness, this imagery is tied in with the Judeo-Christian metaphorical understanding of bodily death, that mankind was formed from dust and will return to dust upon decay. His mind returns to this moment, but later events in sections 30-32 help the everyman to demystify burial and move on from the horrors of this realization.