Death. It means a cessation of valuable activity



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Five Stages of Grief

“Death. It means a cessation of valuable activity” (Kübler-Ross 101). To a man who is dying, death means the end of serving in the church, in his life this was the valuable activity; to his children it is losing the father, to his wife losing the husband. In every aspect, grieving has its own dimension and it differs for those who are around and the one who dies. In this chapter a general attitude to death is described with the help of the Kübler-Ross model. Basically the methodology guides through the stages of grieving, in the case of Everyman the sufferer’s point of view will be examined. The model consists of five stages: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Everyman, as a metaphorical figure of Mankind, personifies the typical dying man. In this manner the work approaches the mentality of the audience and represents how the wrong way of living turns into a good manner of dying. The stages are effortlessly traceable throughout the opus.

When one learns about their impending death, the stages of grief are immediately visible in one’s behaviour. The first self-defence line of the human mind is to prove that even the idea of passing is nonsensical. The inner mechanism, absolutely subconscious, aims to provide the necessary time to adjust to the new stance. This first stage is called denial and isolation (Kübler-Ross 38). It is a temporary condition, instantly after the shock, when one learns about the forthcoming death, but precedes the realization of the situation. The intensity of this stage mainly depends on how the person is informed by a doctor, how much time remains and the person’s natural attitude in stressful situations.

When denial cannot be maintained anymore, the person has to deal with the thought of death. Reality and with it the pain re-emerges, which turns into a stronger emotion: anger (Kübler-Ross 50). The feeling that one is not ready to pass and the impotency nourish annoyance. This emotion can be aimed at inanimate objects, strangers, friends, family or the situation itself. Though rationally one knows the people should not be blamed, emotionally one may resent having been left alone at the end of the day. In this approach, it creates guilt and envy that generates anger even more, and these strong mixed feelings culminate in complete hopelessness.

From the despair, which is left from the second stage, grows out the last hope: to make a pact. Bargaining is the third stage of grief, when one believes that there is one last thing to do: behave in a good manner and hope that it gains a bit more time (Kübler-Ross 82). To take the last chance is a normal reaction to feelings like helplessness and vulnerability. Making a pact with the higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable is probably the last chance. The deal serves to satisfy the need to regain the control over one’s life. As Márai says mortals have no chance to argue against or bargain with Death.

(…) mögötted áll a halál és a válladon át hallgatja a párbeszédet. Csontarca figyelmes és vigyorgó. Mert akármilyen szavakkal is vitatod igazad, a halál tudja, hogy vitádban az utolsó szót ő mondja ki. Gondolj mindig erre, mikor ígérsz alkuszol vagy érvelsz (Márai Sándor 140).

Unfortunately, the bargain only exists in the mind, the last word is always said by Death. This is the second defence line whereby people refuse to accept reality.

Usually those close to death know that the time has come, in a long illness people tend to feel the end. Death is preceded by a longer depressive period. There are two types of depressions that must be distinguished. The first is the reactive type regarding the general issues of life (Kübler-Ross 86). For example: the cost of funeral or the livelihood of a family. This is a stage when one blames oneself for not having spent enough time with the family or those of importance. These obvious concerns can be simply eased by reassurance and clarification. The second type is a preparatory phase, more subtle and private, when evaluation and saying the last goodbyes occurs (Kübler-Ross 86).

Acceptance is hopefully the achieved last stage of mourning, but unfortunately not everyone is able to unleash their lives to embrace acceptance (Kübler-Ross 113). This stage is pervaded by withdrawal and serenity. It is not a period of gladness or contentment and it must be distinguished from both types of depressions (Kübler-Ross 113). As the name of the state suggests, it is the time when death in its real form is accepted.

All stages without exception are easily traceable in Everyman. The protagonist of the chosen play is in every aspect a typical representative figure of humanity, he passes through the stages reflecting the Kübler-Ross model precisely. The usual order is: denial, anger, bargain, depression and acceptance but in Everyman the second and the third is changed up. It is easy to feel the harsh reality of the play, especially when it is examined through the five stages of grief.

The first defence line of Everyman is denial.

EVERYMAN: Full unready I am such reckoning to give

I know thee not: what messenger art thou? (Line: 113-114)

Everyman tries to pretend the only possibility that would be realistic in his case, it must be either a joke or a misunderstanding. Another noticeable matter is the questioning of the messenger. In the first line Everyman knew that the ‘reckoning’ is death, but in the question he almost asks ‘Who are you to give me such a message? Are you competent at all in this matter?’ This duality: the understanding of the situation and the questioning of the same situation, leads to the slow process of comprehending.

The next step should be anger, but Everyman starts bargaining with Death, without even considering the fact that Death is not corruptible. It seems Everyman had lived a life wherein money could solve every problem. He disregards that death is not a mundane character and he is only here for one reason: to fulfil the request of God.

EVERYMAN: O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind;

In thy power it lieth me to save,

Yet of my good will I give thee, if ye will be kind,

Yea, a thousand pound shalt thou have,

And defer this matter till another day. (Line: 119-123)

No matter that Everyman offers money, Death has nothing to do with earthly businesses. Thus, Death entirely rejects to give him more time, without a germ of sympathy.

As it is pointed out above, the second and third stages are changed up, so anger is the third phase in Everyman. Anger comes from the powerlessness and the feeling of impotency. When a situation cannot be controlled, the easiest way to defend ourselves is to blame somebody else. Usually the anger is aimed at God, family, friends or those who are around.

DEATH: (…) Everyman, thou art mad; thou hast thou wits five,

And here on earth will not amend thy life,

For suddenly I do come. (Line: 168-170)

It is the indirect portrayal of Everyman’s anger. Death with no respect regards that Everyman goes completely crazy. In this brief description it is not declared who is the target of his anger. It cannot be narrowed down to one specific person, however, there is a concealed anger aimed at God. On the surface a real hatred should be discovered targeted at Death. Two reasons must be revealed in connection to the aforementioned. Firstly, Death shows no empathy at all and secondly, he does not accept the bribe from Everyman. Therefore the real anger is seemingly aimed at Death.

The penultimate phase of the model in question is depression. There are two types of depressions, which are detailed in the first part of this chapter, but in Everyman’s case it is not possible to enunciate which type he suffers from. Predominant and preparation types are distinguished by their characteristic of pervasiveness. The former is quite superficial, in contrary to the latter, which is omnipresent. By the following quotation it is not incorrect to declare that Everyman is in the phase of predominant depression. Although he is not concerned about the life he left behind, he is not yet in the phase of preparation.

EVERYMAN: O wretched caitiff, whither shall I flee,

That I might scape this endless sorrow. (Line: 171-172)

If he was to understand and accept that his life ends, he could not consider his endless sorrow as a stage which can be completed without actually dying. Hence, the preparation type is excluded by this reverse methodology.

Acceptance is the last stage of grieving when one realizes that the journey comes to the end. Incontrovertible, this is the hardest to achieve and most possibly those who believe in a higher power or God will reach this phase easier than atheists. In Everyman the existence of God is not questioned, Death itself is the proof of it when he declares that he is sent by God. This statement is almost equivalent with the universal truth. Hence, when the pilgrimage of Everyman reaches its end, his faith is revealed.

EVERYMAN: Into thy hands, Lord, my soul I commend;

Receive it, Lord, that it be no lost;

As thou me boughtest, so me defend,

And save me from the fiend’s boast, (Line: 872-875)

The few lines above demonstrate the calmness that is received by the acknowledgement of the end. Although in Everyman’s point of view to die is unfavourable, his prayer is filled with faith in God and hope. Such belief can make this phase more accessible but only if the soul is freed from anxiety.

Repentance is the way to put down the burdens of one’s soul. A major point is when Everyman confesses his sins because this is the only way he achieves that Good-Deeds can accompany him to the grave. To reach the stage of acceptance one has to presume that everything may help at the judgement, for example confession, is performed. This is the reason why repentance is right before acceptance in the period of time. It also has a connection to the second phase of depression: evaluation. One has to assort every deed by their manner, however, with the vices nothing else can be done but to confess them.

EVERYMAN: O glorious fountain that all uncleanness doth clarify,

That on me no sin may be seen;

I come with knowledge for my redemption,

Repent with hearty and full contrition; (Line 64-68)

In the opus, between Everyman and God, two types of communication forms can be distinguished. The first type should be examined in the method of repentance, whereby an upward communication is created. Everyman confesses his sins through Confession to God, this communication is a genuine part in the faith of Catholics. Last but not least one more character shall be mentioned in connection with repentance: Christ who created the chance of forgiveness throughout repentance with his death on the cross. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. Thus Christ should be considered the mediator, this can be also understood as the role of a messenger. In this instance Christ gives the message to God but in the case of downward communication the same role is impersonated by Death. The messenger is Death in Everyman, God sent him to bestow the information on the summoning. Clearly this is a downward communication from God to Everyman. These two forms of communication in their essence are neutral, but for two reasons the latter one can be easily claimed a negative manner of delivery.

It is crucial to think about the way of delivering the announcement of Everyman’s death and also to identify the messenger. Whenever one receives bad news it is necessary to examine the circumstances of the situation because it can reveal the reasons of one’s behaviour. In the case of Everyman the bad news is simply that his life ends. The delivery is done by Death who is generally associated with a negative higher power in life. Although the manner of the announcement is neutral, the topic of the statement achieves that the audience perceives the information as unfavourable. This way the message donates its negative aspect to the messenger. With this method the mere existence of the messenger is intensified in a negative way.

Now the situation is given: a piece of bad news and Death as the messenger. It is questioned with reason why it is necessary that Death has to embody the mediator in Everyman. Experimentally, an angel shall be interchanged, for the part of the mediator. Imagine that Everyman lives his life normally when an angel with its shining glory and white wings condescends from heaven. Even though the bad news is given, no human would be able to consider the fact of dying in a heart-broken manner when an angel reveals it. With non-mundane characters people tend to associate extreme attitude and feelings. In the first instance to angels the warm and glaring light is attributed, in contrast with the characteristics of Death. The dark, cold and formidable being who obviously cannot descend from above but arises from the deepest hell. The description of the angel as the messenger highlights the importance of Death as a mediator because the angelical figure is associated with a happy end in heaven, therefore deprives the negative feelings attached to decease. There is no better figure to achieve the fear and anxiety which leads to repentance than Death.

Allegorical figures are such phenomena which have at least one purpose: to dispossess the original meaning of their being and to relocate the reason for their existence to the background meaning (Cuddon 21). For instance Everyman is a person who lived through his days without meditation on God and the Bible, but the reason of his existence is to show the way of repentance. When an author decides to use allegorical figures, this feature becomes the foundation of the opus. Everyman is not only one person, but he can be associated with every single human who lives the same way. This exact thread allows the reader to donate Death an unconventional role: the teacher. However, a lack of description is found when one examines the character of Death, indirect methodology helps to zoom on the necessary details.

DEATH: Almighty God, I am here at your will

Your commandment to fulfil.

God: Go thou to Everyman,

And show him in my name

A pilgrimage he must on him take, (line 64-68)

In the above quoted scene the proper role of Death is described, his only purpose is to accomplish the will of God. The command is expressed by God and his right-hand man has to perform the wish. Thus the foundation of his role is established by God and in this manner it is indisputable that he is not a negative character. The core of the character originates from the higher power, who provides a second chance to Everyman and as a consequence, Death has a positive purpose to exist. Although God is angry that Mankind does not meditate on the good deeds and the way of Christian life, he administers the journey that Everyman must take. If God were vengeful and bloodthirsty he would never provide a chance to repent. Though on the surface the role of Death is seemingly negative, the aim of his character is to teach Everyman to repent and to realize the role of God in the life of Humankind.

The characteristics of a good teacher are straightforwardness, clarity, coherency and consistency. But Death has another feature, he is frightening, which in Everyman’s case is determinant. Fear can be a multiplier effect in education, such as a deadline, when everything else fails fear can be a quite effective impulse.

DEATH: On thee thou must take a long journey:

Therefore thy book of count with thee thou bring;

For turn again thou can not by no way,

And look thou be sure of thy reckoning: (Line 103-106)

When announcing to Everyman that he has to go, Death behaves like a real teacher. To Everyman exact commands are provided by Death, bring your book of count, which is the account of one’s deeds. Whether or not the deeds are good or bad, every act is enumerated in its actual truth. Straightforward and clear information is given to the character: you must go, bring your book. A successful teacher knows that exact instructions are the key to avoid misunderstandings.

DEATH: Thee availeth not to cry, weep and pray:

But haste thee lightly that you were gone the journey,

And prove thy friends if thou can.



For, wete thou well, the tide abideth no man, (Line 140-143)

The consistency and coherency are perceptible in the lines above, this scene belongs to the part where Everyman tries to bargain but the rejections of Death are still valid. At first Death only refuses to allow a bit more time but for the second instance he forcefully expresses himself: time will not wait for man and due to the sin of Adam every living creature must die. Based on these examples from the text, in the manner of his communication it is obvious that Death has an educational rule in Everyman.

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