When their father died, Howie says, the everyman chose to take their father’s watch, which he then wore all the time except for swimming. The everyman took it off 48 hours before the funeral, in order to keep it safe while he underwent the surgery that killed him. Howie says that Nancy is now wearing the watch. After Howie is finished speaking, Randy and Lonny come forward. Lonny shakes at the grave’s edge, overcome with conflicting emotion. Randy, the older brother, rescues him by taking the clod of earth from Lonny’s hand and throwing it down to the coffin. Randy gives a kindly sounding address to the everyman, but there is no emotion in his voice. Maureen is the last to approach the coffin. She drops the clod of earth in a suggestive way, which, the narrator says, indicates she might have given the everyman a lot of thought.

From this point on the funeral is concluded and the mourners walk away. Being left behind, the narrator says, is humanity’s least favorite thing. While some of the mourners are very upset, others are relieved, or even pleased.

Analysis

An epigraph establishes the tone for the story which is to follow. In this case, it provides a melancholy, morbid entry into a novel which tackles themes of illness, aging, isolation, and death. Keats’ poem “Ode to a Nightingale” explores the idea of the transitory nature of all life. In particular this section of the poem explores how the sweet song of this bird can help the author to forget what the bird itself does not know, which is the suffering that humans, in their self-awareness, experience in growing old and infirm. Even with this epigraph setting the mood, the opening of the novel with the funeral of its protagonist is startling. The reader might expect that this is an opening that will be undercut by the reanimation of the everyman’s life in its retelling, and to a certain extent this is true. Throughout the novel, we are given insight into the life of the everyman, his feelings, foibles and failings. However, this chapter provides the first glimpse of the everyman. The reader will therefore view the everyman, knowing he is dead, through the lens of eulogy.

The everyman is dead, and everything that is told about him by his loved ones is posthumous. Every detail that is recounted about the everyman’s life has already happened and cannot happen again in a different way. This gives the section, and the novel as a whole, an air of inevitability. The narration throughout the novel is for the most part told in past tense, and third person limited, meaning that we only have access to the everyman’s inner thoughts and feelings. The past tense adds to the sense that this is a story being told of a person’s life that has already concluded. Another factor which lends weight to the feeling of melancholy inevitability is the fact that the protagonist, the everyman, goes unnamed throughout this section. We might expect a dead man’s name would be spoken at his funeral, if for no other reason than to distinguish that burial from others happening on the same day, but this does not happen. In fact, the narrator tells us that this particular funeral varied from these others only through Lonny’s awkward hesitation and Howie’s very precise, nostalgic account of the everyman’s childhood. The narrator says that the commonness of death is what makes it most overwhelmingly poignant.

Everything we learn about the everyman in this opening section places him within the scope of ordinary humanity. His funeral is modest in size and location, in the run-down Jewish cemetery his family helped found. The mourners present are mostly family and work colleagues, all of them subdued and respectful, and none obviously shocked or devastated by the everyman’s passing. Nancy, the everyman’s daughter, provides an image of duty and submission to the inevitable as she talks about the family connection to the graveyard and drops a clod of earth on her father’s grave. Nancy is not without emotion, as she appears bewildered and childlike, though ultimately stoic. The everyman, in his attitude towards life, has prepared her for the unstoppable force of reality. Meanwhile Howie is able to use his memories as a cushion for his grief. The narrator establishes Howie as someone who is exceptional in many ways. Howie has lived a life of perfect good health, is an excellent sportsman, a natural leader, and full of kindness. But Howie is not the protagonist of the novel, his unnamed, deceased brother, the everyman, is.

It is through Howie’s recollection that we begin to understand the character of the everyman and the driving forces of the everyman’s life. We learn through Howie’s eulogy that the everyman loved the responsibility of transporting his father’s diamonds on the bus to Newark. We learn that he was fascinated by the old, irreparable watches his father kept in a drawer for parts. He loved the rituals of shop work and the beauty of the things he saw, from diamonds to watch parts and the beautiful sales girls hired in part because their beauty made them ideal to model jewelry for customers. We can link this awareness of beauty to the everyman’s later successful career as an advertising agent. Early on, the everyman learned about the dazzling surface of beauty as well as the beauty in small, dutiful and detail-oriented work like pulling down shop blinds and sorting through envelopes.