Initially, Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” appears to be a prototypal narrative that merely details the relationship between three women. After close review, the narrative acquires added meaning through rich symbolism. Walker uses a plethora of clandestine symbolism to demonstrate the importance of heritage to African American culture. Walker cleverly utilizes ordinary items such as a quilt, in addition to the character’s physical qualities and indirect characterizations to demonstrate the contrasting attitudes towards heritage that are prevalent not only in the Johnson family, but in the black community as a whole.
Mama, the matriarch of the Johnson family, is introduced as she waits in the yard to receive her eldest daughter, Dee. She reveals that she has taken great measures to ensure the appearance of the yard that she describes as an “extended living room.” For Mama, outside represents freedom. [Walker] Also, since the home is traditionally considered female domain, it can be argued that she has rejected traditional female roles. Whereas a traditional woman would take painstaking measures arranging the inside of the home, Mama is “sensitive to every detail of the yard’s appearance.” [Walker] She even mentions that it is “swept as clean as a floor.” This idea is further supported by Mama’s direct characterization of herself as a “big boned woman” with “man working hands” as she describes the various activities in which she is skilled, all of which take place outside.[Walker] The argument between her daughters that eventually ensues takes place inside the house, thus further solidifying outside as a place of peace.
Maggie, Mama’s shy daughter, is glimpsed next. She is described as having scars from a previous fire which has subsequently made her shy. Mama admits in a precise, but loving manner that “like good looks and money, quickness passed by her,”which implies that Maggie is uneducated. [White] The scars that Maggie bears can be interpreted as a symbol for the many psychological scars of slavery. While Maggie is ashamed of her physical scars, generations of African Americans are shamed by the lasting vestiges of slavery. Maggie is characterized as a pitiful and uneducated character, which mirrors the pity that many misinformed African Americans feel about certain aspects of their history.
When Dee finally arrives, it is conspicuously evident that she is the antithesis of Maggie based on her erratic behavior and clothing. Not only is she dressed in foreign attire that is inappropriate for the climate, she also greets her mother in a foreign language. In addition to these absurdities, she snaps numerous Polaroid’s of her mother and the house. This condescending behavior serves to show that she feels she is merely a visitor to their lifestyle as well as more accomplished. Dee is accompanied by Hakim-a-barber whose relationship to her is ambiguous. Hakim-a-barber’s appearance is equally as strange to Mama. After he gives Mama a traditional...