The concept of "Everyman" derives from the 15-century morality play "The Summoning of Everyman." The play was meant as a guide towards salvation and how a person might attain it. The name "Everyman" was meant to represent an everyday, ordinary person of the time, implying that Christian salvation was obtainable by any person. Today, the idea of "everyman" is used to indicate any ordinary person with ordinary characteristics that might represent the majority of the world's citizens. When considering the characteristics of "everyman" in literature, plays, and films, one might therefore surmise that this is, ideally, a character that the majority of his or her intended audience would be able to relate to. In film, for example, a young single mother who attempts to balance her relationship with her children with other responsibilities such as work and romantic relationships would be relatively typical of Western society today, where single parenthood is no longer significantly unusual. What is interesting, however, is that the concept of "everyman" can no longer be said to be homogeneous in the world we know today. There are many different societies and communities, where an everyman concepts might be as divergent a devout Muslim, a gay transvestite, or a female prostitute. The same is true when examining the representative concept of "everyman" in plays that have been written in the past. When comparing the character of Faust from Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus with Blanche from Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, the critical reader might find it difficult to identify common elements. However, an examination of the context of both plays show that their main characters indeed have much to offer as "everyman" types.
The first important comparison to make between the texts is their context, especially in terms of time period and society. Christopher Marlowe wrote his play during the 17th century, where the spirit of the Renaissance was at constant war with established religious values and a rigid adherence to the rejection of knowledge that was perceived as "harmful" at the time. Indeed, this knowledge was considered so harmful that it could even send a less than careful soul to hell, as it did in the case of Faust. Sulaiman (2010) goes as far as establishing Marlowe as a humanist and reading his Faust character as representative of a critique on academic culture of the time. The relatively dry nature of academia during the time is what drives Faustus towards a thirst for darker knowledge, as he indicates with the words: "Philosophy is odious and obscure; / Both law and physic are for petty wits. / 'Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me" (1.1.101-103). The implication is that the pride and arrogance cultivated by a culture based upon the acquisition of knowledge simply creates more thirst and greater arrogance, which are ultimately dangerous to the soul. This is the context within which Faustus finds his rise and fall.
Williams, on the other hand, writes his work in the context of post-war Western civilization. According to Hooti (2011), this period can be compared to the Renaissance represented in Doctor Faustus because it is also transitional and crucial to the development of the society at the time. The Second World War was far more violent than the Dark Ages, but no less destructive to all the building blocks that made society a healthy and growing entity. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, for example, there was a basic loss of faith in humanity and a general disintegration of the family institution. The outcome of these losses is a sense of isolation, where people find themselves isolated from their family and friendship relationships. It is a profound sense of loss and loneliness that characterizes this post-war world. And it is in this world that Williams constructed his play. Like Faustus, Blanche is then also representative of her world. Like every other person in her world, she finds herself isolated from human warmth in a world where labor strikes, the Korean war, Vietnam, civil rights, and the feminist movement exist in uncomfortable and conflict-ridden companionship. Like many, and like Faustus, she is in many ways the victim, and powerless to combat the forces that rule, and ultimately ruin, her life.
Like Blanche, the tragedy of Faustus, as experienced by the audience, lies in the fact that the audience can understand his predicament, representative as he is of "everyman." As…