From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In literary criticism, the term everyman has come to mean an ordinary individual, with whom the audience or reader is supposed to be able to identify, and who is often placed in extraordinary circumstances. The name derives from a 16th century English morality play called Everyman.
The contemporary everyman differs greatly from his (or her) medieval counterpart in many respects. While the medieval everyman was devoid of definite marks of individuality to create a universality in the moral message of the play, the contemporary storyteller may use an everyman for amoral or, to some ways of thinking, immoral purposes.
In adventure stories, the protagonist is often the idealized competent man who possesses charm, charisma, exceptional intelligence, sex appeal, and a multitude of talents (for example James Bond) that helps him through his adventures. Such characters are expected to and usually do win at every scenario they encounter. The everyman character, however, is written so that the reader or audience can imagine himself or herself in the same situation without having to possess knowledge, skills, and abilities outside his or her everyday experience. Such characters react realistically in situations that are often taken for granted with traditional heroes. For example, an everyman character (unless he happens to be a pugilist) who gets into a fight is likely to hurt his hand if he punches someone in the face.
Alternately, an Everyman occupies the role of protagonist without being a 'hero' and without the depth which usually defines main characters. Instead, the Everyman is developed like a secondary character but her (or his) near omnipresence in the story causes the reader or audience to focus on events and story lines around him (or her). Some audiences or readers may project themselves into this character, as no dominant characteristic of the Everyman prevents them from doing so. Others may ignore the character and concentrate on the story arc, the visual imagery, the irony or satire and, in short, any other aspect of the story which the orchestrator(s) of the story have focused upon or, indeed, whatever interests the the reader personally.
- Average Joe
- Everyman's right
- The man on the Clapham omnibus
- Reasonable person
- Common man
- John Q. Public