The Allegory And Other Literary Devices In Everyman

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Written anonymously, the morality play, Everyman, is a literary masterpiece that dates back to medieval times. Its words and teachings continue to influence many to this day. The allegorical play lists the main character by the name, Everyman; a person who is confronted by the personification of Death and later lead to his demise. The play consists of many personified concepts such as Fellowship, Knowledge, Wealth, Good Deeds, and many others who all converse with Everyman trying to lead him to learn the important lessons of life. In the end, Everyman is claimed by death, dying from complications during invasive surgery. In Everyman the author displays a broad use of symbolism, personification, and allegories, which helps show the teachings that individuals learn through life.

In Everyman, symbolism is present in many characters. Many life lessons are conveyed throughout the play through symbolism. Symbolism is the act of attributing an idea, fact, or object to a person, place, thing or idea in order to represent it. In this case, the symbolism used in Everyman is meant to help the reader understand life’s lessons more easily. Confession is a symbolic character within the play Everyman, which is displayed especially through his name, and actions. Confession gives penance and the act of contrition to the character, Everyman in order to help him redeem and free himself from his sins. Referring to Confession as, “the mother of Salvation” Everyman prays at Confession’s feet, verbally pouring out his regret for all of his unholy actions (Everyman l. 551). Confession acts by helping Everyman confess his sins and provides him penance. This exchange is often symbolic of how the Roman Christian Church performs reconciliation, where followers can redeem themselves for sins they committed by expressing their deep regret for them in front of a Catholic Priest who then on behalf of God, forgives them. This was a common practice at the time of this play’s inception and continues to be one today in the Catholic tradition.

Death is another symbolic character in the play, Everyman. During the play, Death allows Everyman a companion; somebody to travel with him on his pilgrimage to his grave. Death is symbolic of death and therefore the dying process. The steps of the dying process are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This mirrors the five stages of grief. As instructed by God, Death informs Everyman that he is going to meet the same fate everyone else does. When asked by Everyman who he was, Death responded with “I am Death that no man dreadeth” to which Everyman responded by pleading for a Death to pardon his soul another day (Everyman l. 115). Denying his request, Death conveys the message that death is coming for Everyman, as well as everyone else sooner or later. It matters not who or what they are; all will come face to face with their eventual demise. This is meant to symbolize the percentage of people today who think that death can be delayed by taking different courses of action and other precautionary measures, but ultimately, death claims everybody. In addition to the character Death and Confession, the character of Everyman, himself, is symbolic of humanity and therefore the sinful nature related to it. The author uses the character as symbol of each man, thereby diminishing the various nature of humanity in favor of viewing all humanity as tainted by sin. By portraying humanity this way, the author is successively warning people of their sinful nature, trying to show them to be cognizant of their actions. Lastly, Everyman uses symbolism to portray the teachings of life; lessons we cannot escape or delay.

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Like symbolism, the author utilizes personification to better teach the lessons learned through life. Personification gives human characteristics to previously inanimate objects or ideas. This can be seen throughout the complete Everyman poem with the characters Death, Goods, Riches, Fellowship, Beauty, Confession, Knowledge, Discretion as well as others. Even the character Everyman, himself, could be a personification for humanity in its entirety. Other samples of the author’s didactic use of personification include the portrayal of Goods and Riches as a stain on his soul that sabotages his relationship with the Almighty, Knowledge, specifically the great knowledge of the Christian church, and their principles being the key to salvation after death, and Fellowship as an enabler of Everyman’s sins. Fellowship is seen conversing with Everyman explaining how he would support him in the “lusty company” of women and even if “thou will murder” but when asked if he would accompany him on his pilgrimage to the grave, Fellowship firmly refused to go (Everyman l.l. 273, 281). By defining complex ideas like friendship and knowledge in so strict a manner, the author is mirroring his personal ideologies shared with the Catholic teachings. During his journey, Everyman not only takes a view of morality as something which may only be attained through the Christian church but of individuals normally as innately sinful and dependent on the Church for his or her salvation. Within the same way Knowledge, Good, and Fellowship are personified, the character of Everyman himself is the personification of humanity. He’s portrayed as sinful and damned until he’s enlightened by the personification of Knowledge. Knowledge is even quoted saying, “Thus I bequeath you in the hands of our Savior/ Now may you make your reckoning sure” giving council to Everyman that he shall find enlightenment through God and trust in his word (Everyman l.l. 607-609). As seen in this quote, human traits and ideals are personified to more effectively convey the strict message and lessons of the play. Fellowship, knowledge, discretion, and other human concepts appear not as the intangibles we all know them to be, but as actual characters conversing and interacting with Everyman. By personifying these and other concepts, the author allows the theme of Everyman to become more visible, though it’s difficult to imagine it being overlooked otherwise. By having Everyman interact with these conceptualized characters, the author externalizes Everyman’s inner conflict.

In addition to personification and symbolism, the author of Everyman utilizes allegories to impress upon people the different lessons one must learn in life. An allegory is a literary device in which the characters and events presented in a literary work have secondary meanings or significance. During the medieval period, an allegory was predominant for imparting moral and religious lessons to the people such as the ones in Everyman. Everyman imparts moral lessons allegorically by presenting abstract qualities as characters in a play through symbolism and personification. It can also be argued that Everyman’s journey from life to death is like every Christians journey through life as well. Everyman lived his life with a greater emphasis on wealth and personal gain as referenced in the first part of the play and did not devote any of his time or service to God. As a result he became lost in the greed and pleasure of his mundane existence without thinking or preparing himself for the day of his death and judgement; the day he would have to face in front of the Heavenly Father and Death himself. Awe-struck by the presence of Death, Everyman is not prepared and asks that Death come back later so he can better ready himself. Death denies his request. It speaks to the underlying message that the process of death is one that is abrupt and sudden; it waits for no one. The journey of Everyman as he approaches his ultimate end is one that is filled with underlying interpretive messages; many of which speak to the greed and selfishness of humanity and the sinful nature of how people turn their back on the principles and ideals of the Catholic Church.

Everyman was a masterful morality play that is as relevant today as it was five-hundred years ago when it was first written. Through the use of symbolism, personification and allegory the anonymous presents us with the knowledge that every man meets the same fate: death. The play emphasizes that every man must atones for his sins at the end of his life and that this process is inescapable. Through characters such as Knowledge, Death, Confession, and Everyman himself, the play sparks a dialog between individuals, both personified and literal, that convey the teachings and principles of the Church and the repercussions if one does not follow them.

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