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Everyday Use, By Alice Walker Essay

1535 words - 6 pages

Everyday Use, written by Alice Walker is a short story narrated from the eyes of the character Mama. The author uses cultural symbolism throughout her work to tell the tale of struggle between a mother and her two daughters. The tale unfolds at Mama’s house during the Civil rights movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when African Americans were struggling to define themselves and their heritage, the dialog shows conflicting views of how their culture should be appreciated as Mama and Maggie enjoy a visit from Dee. Clear evidence of cultural and contextual symbolism is displayed through: two quilts, Mama’s yard, a fire, a butter churn, and education. The main characters are Mama, who describes herself as "large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands" (paragraph 5), Maggie who was burned in a house fire and bears scars on a large portion of her body, Mama attributed her to “a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person”(paragraph 9), and Dee was the educated sister that went to a fancy school, who was said to be “lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure”(paragraph 10), education and skin color were both symbolic of finer things in the era this story was written in. In Everyday Use, readers discover through the main characters, Mama, Maggie, and Dee that perception and appreciation of heirlooms and cultural heritage can be as colorful and variant as the contrast in their skin. We discern a struggle between a mother and two daughters, discovering that education does not equal happiness, and proper tribute to things cherished by all should be left to those who possess them.
In the story Mama’s first house burned to the ground a decade earlier. The fire is contextually symbolic to Maggie, as Mama said “I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes”(paragraph 10), this is symbolic of Maggie being turned into the inferior sister, doomed to be damaged and left behind as history, heritage, and her sister progressed past her, she never coveted her sister and readily accepted herself and loved her family for who they were. The fire to Dee symbolizes her wanting to forget her family because she is ashamed of them like she was ashamed of their house. Mama described her as almost happy to watch it burn saying ”I see her standing off under the sweet gum tree she used to dig gum out of; a look of concentration on her face as she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot brick chimney”(paragraph 10). As Mama and Maggie wait in the front yard for Dee, Mama describes the yard proudly, “When the hard clay is swept clean as a floor and the fine sand around the edges lined with tiny, irregular grooves anyone can come and sit and look up into the elm tree and wait for the breezed that never come inside the house.”(Paragraph 1) The yard is a contextual symbol of pride that...

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