Are you struggling to create a character who’s just a regular person, but still is interesting enough to keep your reader invested in your story?
As a screenwriter and novelist, I’ve spent countless hours creating characters who display archetypical traits. One type I’ve grown particularly fond of is the Everyman archetype. This archetype is great because it’s all about regular, down-to-earth characters that we can all relate to in some way.
What is the Everyman archetype?
- The Everyman archetype represents a story character who is just a regular, everyday person.
- Audiences love Everyman characters because they are so normal and relatable! They have everyday struggles, plenty of common sense, and they appeal to a broad audience who can see themselves reflected in the character.
- Examples of the Everyman are Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye,” George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit.”
So, in this guide, I’m going to share the most important characteristics of the Everyman. I’ll also share some great examples so that you can learn to write Everyman characters that feel real and relatable.
Let’s get into it!
What Is The Everyman Archetype?
The Everyman, or Everyperson, Regular Guy or Girl, is the embodiment of you and me. An Ordinary Joe or Jane taking on the world with what they have, the Everyman believes that everyone is equal, regardless of status, age, ethnicity or creed.
Possessing a charming sincerity, they embody “what you see is what you get”, preferring to be understated, nonthreatening, and helpful to all.
Their strengths are a sense of fairness, borne of altruism and respect, as well as strong work ethic. They are faithful, supportive, and resourceful. Because of their preoccupation with the basic routines in life, they tend to be rough around the edges, and at times ignorant of the real world. This can make them prey to group think rather than independent thought.
Like a good neighbor, they’re motivated to doing the right thing, with no need for adventure or heroics. They long to fit in and belong, connecting with those around them. To them, “All men and women are created equal.”
Everyman Archetype Characteristics
Here are a few of the most common characteristics of the Everyman character:
Relatability: The Everyman is the character who feels familiar. They’re the people we see in our everyday lives – friends, family, coworkers. This archetype reflects the average person, so they are highly relatable to a wide audience.
Ordinary Challenges: Unlike heroes on grand quests, the Everyman faces problems and conflicts we all understand. These might be things that an ordinary person deals with, like balancing work and family, figuring out financial issues, or navigating social relationships. Their struggles are grounded in the reality of the common person.
Moral Compass: The Everyman has a strong sense of right and wrong. They may not be perfect, but their moral compass guides them through their challenges. This makes them a figure we can root for.
Lack of Glamour: You won’t find the Everyman living a life of glamour. Their lifestyle is usually modest, which reflects the typical experiences of everyday people. This lack of glamour adds to their appeal, making their stories more believable.
Empathy: One of the strongest traits of the Everyman is empathy. They understand and share the feelings of others, which makes them approachable and liked by other characters and the audience alike.
Realistic Goals: The goals of the Everyman are attainable and realistic. They’re not looking to save the world – instead, they’re trying to make their world a little better, one step at a time.
Strengths of the Everyman Archetype
Hard-working: The Everyman is often portrayed as dedicated and committed to their work.
Fair: They typically have a strong sense of fairness and justice, and they treat others with respect and equity.
Resourceful: This archetype often shows great resourcefulness. They have practical ways of making the most of their surroundings.
Weaknesses of the Everyman Archetype
Uncultured: They may be perceived as lacking sophistication or broader cultural knowledge.
Ignorant: Sometimes, the Everyman might be seen as naïve or unaware of the larger complexities of the world.
Group Think: They might have a tendency to conform to the norms of their social group, sometimes at the expense of individual critical thinking.
Motivations of the Everyman Archetype
Equality: The Everyman is often driven by a desire for equality, both for themselves and others.
Doing the Right Thing: A strong moral compass often guides them, focusing on honesty, integrity, and doing what is morally right.
Examples of The Everyman Archetype
Now, let’s take a look at some Everyman archetype examples.
Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
Arthur Dent is the epitome of an Everyman character. He is an average Englishman whose unremarkable life is turned upside down when Earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
Here’s what makes Arthur a classic Everyman:
Relatability: Despite being thrust into the vast and strange universe, Arthur’s concerns remain grounded in everyday comforts like wishing for a cup of tea and familiar foods.
Moral Compass: Even in the face of absurd and unfamiliar cosmic events, Arthur maintains a strong sense of right and wrong.
Empathy: Arthur often displays empathy and understanding with the diverse characters he encounters in space.
His character shows us how an average person might deal with suddenly finding themselves in the middle of extraordinary, and often absurd, cosmic events.
Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is often seen as a symbol of teenage angst and rebellion. However, beneath this exterior, Holden embodies many aspects of the Everyman archetype.
Ordinary Teenager with Universal Struggles: Holden is not a hero in the traditional sense. He’s an average teenager dealing with common issues of adolescence. His struggles with identity, belonging, and the transition into adulthood are experiences shared by many.
Morality Amidst Confusion: Throughout the novel, Holden is deeply troubled by the phoniness he perceives in the adult world and he yearns for sincerity and innocence. This moral compass, despite being surrounded by confusion and hypocrisy, highlights his Everyman qualities.
Relatability Through Inner Turmoil: Holden’s inner thoughts and feelings, particularly his sense of alienation and his quest for connection, resonate with readers. His introspective nature and candid narration allow us to see the world through his eyes.
Holden Caulfield’s character serves as a mirror reflecting the common journey of navigating the complexities of adolescence and the search for identity.
Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” stands out as a quintessential Everyman character amidst the extravagance and decadence of the Roaring Twenties.
Ordinary Background and Perspective: Unlike the other flamboyant and wealthy characters in the novel, Nick comes from a modest Midwestern background. His more grounded perspective and average lifestyle allow readers to see the story’s events through the eyes of an ordinary person.
Moral Compass in a Corrupt World: Nick often serves as the moral center amidst the chaos and moral ambiguity of the East Egg society. His reflections and judgments on the actions of those around him highlight his integrity.
Relatability and Realistic Aspirations: Nick’s aspirations and struggles are relatable. He seeks career success and personal happiness, common goals shared by many. His experiences with love, ambition, and disillusionment make his character universally relatable.
Nick Carraway’s ordinary background, moral sensibility, and relatable aspirations set him apart in a world characterized by excess and immorality.
Ishmael in “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville
Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” is a classic representation of the Everyman archetype, set against the backdrop of a grand and perilous sea adventure. His character offers a unique perspective, distinct from the more extraordinary figures in the story.
Observer and Commentator: Unlike the obsessive Captain Ahab or the other more colorful characters on the Pequod, Ishmael serves primarily as an observer. His role as the narrator allows him to comment on the events and personalities around him, providing a grounded, common viewpoint in an otherwise extraordinary tale.
Intellectual Curiosity: Ishmael’s inquisitive nature and philosophical musings about life, the sea, and the nature of existence are relatable traits that align with the Everyman. His quest for knowledge and understanding mirrors the universal human pursuit of meaning.
Connects with Diverse Crew: Ishmael’s interactions with the Pequod’s crew members highlight his adaptability and ability to connect with people from various backgrounds. His ability to form bonds with different individuals showcases his empathy.
Ishmael’s presence in the story offers a relatable and human perspective in a narrative filled with larger-than-life events and personalities.
Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is an example of the Everyman archetype in a high fantasy setting. His journey from the comforts of his hobbit-hole to the wide and dangerous world beyond offers a unique exploration of the Everyman qualities.
Desire for Comfort and Routine: At the story’s outset, Bilbo cherishes his peaceful, routine life in the Shire. His initial reluctance to embark on an adventure underscores his preference for safety and comfort, traits that are typical of the Everyman.
Unexpected Courage and Growth: Bilbo’s transformation throughout the story reflects the Everyman’s potential for unexpected bravery and growth. Despite his ordinary nature, he rises to the occasion, showing courage and resourcefulness in challenging situations.
Humility and Compassion: Throughout his journey, Bilbo exhibits humility and compassion, often prioritizing the well-being of others over personal glory or wealth.
Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” encapsulates the Everyman archetype through his love for the familiar, his unanticipated heroism, and his humble and compassionate nature.
His character demonstrates that even the most ordinary individuals can play a pivotal role in extraordinary tales.
George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”
George Bailey’s life story in the small town of Bedford Falls resonates with audiences due to its authentic portrayal of everyday struggles and dreams.
Everyday Struggles and Aspirations: George’s life is filled with common challenges and desires. He dreams of traveling and achieving great things but finds himself bound by duty to his family and community. His journey reflects the universal conflict between personal ambitions and responsibilities.
Emotional Vulnerability: George’s emotional depth, especially his moments of despair and joy, paints a vivid picture of the human experience. His vulnerability, seen in his struggles with financial hardship and existential crises, makes him deeply human and relatable.
Impact on Community: The film’s climax, where George sees what life would be like without him, underscores the importance of every individual in their community. His impact, though subtle and often unrecognized, highlights how every person’s life has significance.
George Bailey’s story is a touching reminder of how simple acts of kindness can leave lasting effects on everyone around you.
Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption”
Andy Dufresne’s story is set within the confines of Shawshank Prison. It resonates with the common themes of perseverance, integrity, and hope.
Resilience in Adversity: Despite being wrongfully convicted, Andy faces his harsh reality with a quiet strength. His ability to endure and maintain hope in the face of overwhelming adversity is a testament to the human spirit.
Integrity and Quiet Wisdom: Throughout his time in Shawshank, Andy maintains a strong sense of integrity. He uses his banking knowledge to help fellow inmates and prison staff, and he earns their respect and trust.
Subtle Impact and Influence: Andy’s influence on his fellow inmates, especially Red, is profound yet subtle. He inspires those around him to look beyond their immediate circumstances and believe in a better future. He is a powerful example of how quiet, consistent actions can change lives.
Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” personifies the Everyman through his resilience and integrity in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Walter Mitty in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
Walter Mitty embodies the Everyman archetype in a unique way. His character’s journey from a daydreamer to an adventurer captures the essence of an ordinary person facing extraordinary circumstances.
Daydreams Reflecting Inner Desires: Walter’s frequent daydreams, where he imagines himself as a hero in various thrilling scenarios, highlight his longing for excitement.
Ordinary Life and Job: In reality, Walter leads a very ordinary life. He has a routine job at Life magazine and faces everyday challenges. His normalcy makes him instantly relatable to anyone who feels caught in the monotony of daily life.
Personal Growth and Courage: The real adventure begins when Walter steps out of his comfort zone. His journey is marked by moments of unexpected courage and personal growth. He evolves from a passive dreamer to an active participant in his own life story.
Walter Mitty’s transition from a mundane existence to a life of adventure and discovery mirrors the potential within every ordinary person to break free from the routine of life and embrace the extraordinary.
Other noteable examples of the Everyman include Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Charlie Brown, Little Orphan Annie, Jim Halpert in the Office, Jonathan Harker in Dracula, and the Narrator in Fight Club.
From the likes of Arthur Dent to Walter Mitty, we’ve seen how characters with everyday lives and challenges can still surprise us with moments of bravery and heroism. It’s this very blend of the ordinary and extraordinary that strikes a chord with us and makes us enjoy the Everyman archetype.
If you’ve enjoyed our look at the Everyman, I bet you’ll love diving into the other archetypes as much. In my other articles, we’ll peel back the layers of different characters – the brave heroes, the wise mentors and sages, the cunning tricksters, and others. You’ll get to see how each one plays a unique role in a story, and maybe, how they can add some magic to your own tales!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the characteristics of the Everyman archetype?
The Everyman archetype is characterized by its relatability, ordinary background, moral compass, adaptability, lack of glamour, empathy, and realistic goals. These traits make the Everyman a figure that audiences can easily identify with, as they reflect common experiences and values found in everyday life.
How does the Everyman archetype differ from other archetypes?
The Everyman archetype is unique in its focus on ordinary, relatable characters with common struggles. This is unlike more heroic or specialized archetypes that often feature extraordinary abilities or destinies.
What are some examples of the Everyman archetype in literature or film?
Examples of the Everyman archetype include Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit.”
How can I incorporate the Everyman archetype into my own storytelling?
To incorporate the Everyman archetypes in your stories, create characters with relatable, everyday challenges and traits. Let them be ordinary people who react realistically to the world around them, showing growth and resilience in familiar ways.
Are there any negative traits associated with the Everyman archetype?
Yes, the Everyman archetype can sometimes be seen as overly ordinary or unremarkable or even naïve, which can make these characters seem less exciting compared to others with more distinct traits. The key challenge is to keep the Everyman interesting while avoiding blandness.