AskDefine | Define everyman

Dictionary Definition

everyman n : the ordinary person

User Contributed Dictionary



perhaps from the Flemish play Elckerlijc (c. 1495) or its English translation Everyman (c. 1520)


  1. In fiction, drama, or allegory, the archetypical ordinary individual, frequently the protagonist in a parable of some sort.

Extensive Definition

In literature and drama, the term everyman (or "Average Joe") has come to mean an ordinary individual, with whom the audience or reader is supposed to be able to identify easily, 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, wit, charisma, exceptional intelligence, sex appeal, athletic and fighting ability, and a multitude of talents that help him through his adventures. Such characters are expected to and usually do emerge as victors from every scenario they encounter. The everyman character, however, is constructed so that the reader or audience can imagine itself/themselves in the same situation without having to possess knowledge, skills, or abilities outside everyday experience. Such characters react realistically in situations that are often taken for granted with traditional heroes; an everyman character who gets into a fight is likely to hurt his hand if he punches another character.
Alternatively, an Everyman occupies the role of protagonist without being a 'hero' and without the depth which usually defines central characters. In this scenario, the Everyman is developed like a secondary character, but her/his near omnipresence in the story causes the reader or audience to focus on events and story lines surrounding him/her. Some audiences or readers may project themselves into this character, if 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 any other aspect of the story which the orchestrator(s) of the story have focused upon or, indeed, whatever personally interests the reader.



everyman in Dutch: Elckerlijc

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cockney, John Doe, John Smith, Public, average, average man, body politic, bourgeois, citizenry, common man, common run, commoner, commonwealth, community, community at large, estate, everybody, everyman, everyone, everywoman, folk, folks, general public, generality, gentry, girl next door, homme moyen sensuel, little fellow, little man, men, nation, nationality, ordinary Joe, ordinary run, people, people in general, persons, pleb, plebeian, polity, populace, population, proletarian, public, roturier, ruck, run, society, state, world, you and me
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