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In literature and drama, the term everyman 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 contemporary everyman differs from his (or her) medieval counterpart in many respects. While the medieval everyman was devoid of definite marks of individuality in order to create a universality in the moral message of the play, the contemporary storyteller may use an everyman for amoral, immoral, or demonstrative purposes.
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The everyman character is constructed so that the audience can imagine themselves in the same situation without having to possess knowledge, skills, or abilities that transcend human potential. Such characters react realistically in situations that are often taken for granted with traditional heroes.
Alternatively, an everyman occupies the role of protagonist without being a "hero" and without necessarily being a round character or a dynamic character. In this scenario, the everyman is developed like a secondary character, but the character's near omnipresence within the narrative shifts the focus from character development to events and story lines surrounding the character. 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.
An everyman character may occasionally be used as a narrator for the action, or to gloss over or fill in temporal gaps in the flow of a story. This allows for the presence of narrators without drawing attention to their role, by having a character commentating on events from within the dramatic action rather than separate from it. When employed in this way, the everyman character may by necessity have to break the convention of the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience. Examples of this role would include the character of Ché in the musical Evita.
An example of the term's use in non-fiction is the description in Salon of Dustin Hoffman's reaction to the Weather Underground's townhouse explosion: "[...] the news footage of the Greenwich Village townhouse destroyed in 1970 by bomb-making gone wrong in the basement still has enormous impact. Standing in the chaotic street, actor Dustin Hoffman, who lived next door, seems like Everyman at the apocalypse."
Leopold Bloom, the Jewish everyman
Amongst his greatest films were those of the thirties - 'It's a Gift' in 1934, 'You Can't Cheat an Honest Man' in 1939, and, especially, 'The Bank Dick' in 1940. His characteristic portrayal of the beleaguered 'everyman' figure made him a national institution.
It was talking pictures that helped to fully realize Fields' character. He was at once an angry wiseacre, and at other times a put-upon henpecked husband whose Everyman was at the mercy of any and all authority. His winning in the end provides a vicarious thrill for the viewer, as does his dry mockery of his stereotypical surroundings.