The Ordinary or Everyman (person) sometimes called the Orphan is one of Jung’s 12 basic archetypes, and although sounds, well, ordinary, the archetype holds many useful connotations and universal stories which appeal to many readers.
The Ordinary Man
“All men are supposed to be created equal, but it pays to be careful” ~ Ordinary Guy Motto
Jung’s interpretation of the Ordinary / Everyman or Orphan is one of connection. The Jung archetype is quoted as being “Okay as he or she is.”
“Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolised.” – Albert Einstein
The concept of the everyman goes back to medieval times, and provides a morality story of what everyday living looks like. In politics, the common man is the measuring stick for values and laws to uphold our societies, and is an instrument for democracy – one man, one vote; and equality – all peers are equal.
However, that doesn’t really make a story.
What Pearson-Marrs did was conceptualise that the Ordinary Guy is actually a transitional archetype, sitting between the true innocent, and the full hero or warrior archetype. Of course, in real life, most people simply stay at the everyman stage, and live quite comfortably so. But in fiction, the everyman can develop into either a hero, or in a tragedy, a victim or even a villain.
Many of our most memorable fiction includes an everyman who is quite happy with his or her life (if the reader sees it as pretty mundane), has been through their normal share of hard life knocks, and is feeling reasonably secure, only to be thrown into some conflict and forced to shake off a victim mantle to become a hero.
There’s no surprise that our favourite superheroes have origins as ordinary guys. This universal story reminds us that the everyman has an equal footing within his peers, and that we might find our own superpowers just like they did, if the time ever comes. Taking away superpowers from the equation we have the many little guy versus big guy David and Goliath heroics.
Out of the mythic spheres, we have many of our comedy-dramas on television set in small villages, pubs, cafes, cubicle offices, normal family homes and other more domestic or mundane settings. These are peopled with the ordinary guys and gals of the world.
The Ordinary Man does not need to be a hero of the story. You can use the everyman and everywoman throughout your story as tertiary or flat characters to set your world within, or as a secondary character or sidekick who can give your hero the balance and realism they may need.
Innocent, Orphan or Everyman?
Sometimes the Ordinary Guy / Orphan archetype is confused with the Innocent. To make matters more confusing, the orphan as stereotype (young child without parents) is often called an Innocent.
The Innocent (sometimes called the child or waif) is another of the 12 Jung archetypes, and has a slightly different archetypture, in that the innocent is a spontaneous and trusting child-type, while the Everyman has grown up, and already has a sense of place and belonging within the normal world.
Whilst the innocent will fear abandonment (as any child might), the true ordinary everyman or orphan will fear exploitation or rejection. The innocent will bring virtues of optimism, trust and faith to a challenge, while the older every-person will have formed virtues of interdependence, realism, resilience and empathy.
The innocent will seek safety. The everyman already has safety, so they will seek to keep it. But the association between Everyman and Orphan now kicks in. Think of an orphan as somebody who grew up quickly and had to fend for themselves. The orphan as everyman will fear exploitation, and to fight against this, an ordinary guy / orphan may need to seek to develop in areas they may have missed in growing up (or finding their place in society). Most of us as everyman never had to use certain skills to survive, but we all hope that if ever called to use these, we could.
The Everyman (Orphan) Conflict and Character Arc
The Orphan archetype is a transitional figure from innocent acceptance of the world and authority (the Innocent) to active engagement with life’s journey (the Warrior or Hero).
Orphans are independent and self-reliant and can be mistrustful of authority. Because of their inherent distrust in the motives of others, Orphans who have survived through severe antagonism at earlier stages run the risk of becoming loners, eternal victims, or abusers. An orphan who goes down this route is an excellent anti-hero, or even villain for our stories.
Those more socialised and safe orphans/everyman will react to large conflict by deflecting responsibility onto authority to rescue them, perhaps cynically. Those with more gumption will transition to take full control of their lives, becoming our protagonist heroes.
Whether a victim, abuser or villain everyman or a fighter, warrior hero everyman, both types will have a huge task to accept help from others initially. This comes out of their belief that it is only through themselves that they got where they are today. Society teaches us this right from the start.
But, most of us as everyman, hold successful and comfortable lives without having to transition (often) into full heroes.
This is because, going back to Jung’s original understanding of the archetypes, the ordinary person is the most centred of the archetypes. They know life can be tough, they’ve ploughed through their share of hard knocks, and may be slightly cynical, but also are aware that every person stands on equal footing to their peers. This opens up the possibilities for all everyman – if one can do it, perhaps somebody else can.
- The Inciting Incident and/or Call to Action: Abandonment, Betrayal, Self-betrayal, Disillusionment, Victimization, Loneliness, Isolation or Alienation.
- Level One: Learning to acknowledge the truth of one’s plight and feel pain, possible Loss of faith
- Level Two: Accepting the need for help
- Level Three: Replacing dependence with interdependence, Developing realistic expectations
Recognising the Ordinary Man
- Core desire: to belong, to be accepted as they are, and to be valued
- Goal: Regain safety and security
- Fear: Exploitation, and to stand out from the crowd, to put on airs or to be rejected or left out.
- When an ordinary guy first encounters conflict in their life, they will firstly hope that somebody else (authorities) will rescue them. The experienced everyman may, however, be more than a little cynical of this hope.
- Most ordinary guys/gals are empathetic to the human condition, hard-working, down-to-earth and hold a big cup of realism. They’ve had their share of hard knocks, and may approach their day-to-day a little cynically, but with hope.
- The ordinary guy is disdainful of any elitism, or classism. They may mistrust authority, or those with authority above them if they act in a leadership role. They want to believe that everyone has a fair shake of the stick, but life has taught them a little otherwise.
- Strengths: realism, empathy, interdependence (when developed), hard-working, solid everyday virtues, down-to-earth, has the common touch.
- Flaws: cyncism, negativity, disdainment for those who have more wealth or opportunities, distrust of higher authorities; too eager to fit in, or please.
Example Ordinary Guys
Professor Indiana Jones began his story as an everyman professor or archaeology, before finding his calling as action hero.
The Simpsons epitomises the everyman family. Homer Simpson is the ordinary guy we cringe while consider the closeness of some of Homer’s behaviours to ourselves. Cheers and Friends gave us everyman groups. More lately, Modern Family provides us with enough everydayness to see ourselves in something of every episode.
Bilbo Baggins was an everyman Hobbit. Ron Weasley was the everyman to Harry Potter. James Stewart as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life was an ordinary man who needed to remember how remarkable ordinariness can be.
The world-wide appeal to Breaking Bad was that Walter White was an everyman turned bad, but for supposedly humanatarian intentions. Michael Douglas’ character in movie Falling Down was a down-and-out everyman run amok. You didn’t know whether to cheer him on, or hope for his own come-uppance.
Actual orphans are overdone in fiction and have become cliched. But there remain some famous orphans: Pinocchio, Little Orphan Annie, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Tarzan, and more recently, Star Lord of Galaxy of the Guardians. On the superhero note, Spiderman, Batman and Superman are all orphans, although I would only classify Peter Parker as truly everyman before his spider senses arrived.
Other Names, Associates and Origins
- Other names: Regular Guy, Regular Gal, Everyman, Everyperson, Orphan, common man (politics), the good neighbour, blue collar, worker, Working Stiff, Average Joe, Good Ol’ Boy, Solid Citizen.
- Groups: Silent Majority, The Township, The Peers
- Associations: Innocent / Waif / Child, Girl/Guy Next Door (Love interest or Unrequited love within the Young Adult genres predominantly)
- manipulating victim, external victim, cynic, masochist or sadist, richman scrooge, negative Nancy;
- or outlaw/rebel/mercenary (if upholding a true Robin-Hood belief that everyone should be on the same footing);
- or lose themselves to peer mentality and become part of a lynch-mob;
- or lose themselves in securing anonymity and safety by becoming too much of a yes-man.
- Carl Jung first listed the Everyman or Orphan as one of his 12 main archetypes.
- The Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator (PMAI) which is based on these, also profiles the Everyman.
- Branding archetypes have been built on the everyman archetype. Wendy’s is one example of a company which embraces the concept that all men are created equal. Ikea and Levi Jeans are branded to the every man also. Ikea and Walmart brand this way with everyday (ie. affordable) pricing for the average Joe.
Part of 2016’s Character Archetype Series (A-Z) @ Hunter is Writing.