12/20/2011

everyday change

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Like many stories, Alice Walkers Everyday Use contains opening and closing segments which are in sharp contrast to each other. The different styles in which the first and last portions of the story represent the significant changes experienced by Maggie and her mother. These changes, brought on by a brief visit from Maggies older, and more worldly sister, Dee.


The opening scene in Everyday Use presents a vivid picture of Maggie and her mothers yard. It also shows the extreme fondness the two rural women have for the yard. Maggies mother uses the word comfortable(88) to describe the yard and likens it to a living room. Also described in great detail is Maggies demeanor. She is depicted as nervous, homely and ashamed(88). Great weight is place on her burn scars, which run down her arms and legs. The mother, also the narrator, sees herself as being more masculine than feminine. She thinks of herself as being tough and impervious to inclement weather. However, admits that she could not look a ...strange white man in the eye(8). It is clear, that both the mother and Maggie are acutely aware that they are far different than Dee. The women seem intimidated and even envious of Dees ambitions.


In the following paragraphs, Dee arrives with a man, whom her mother believes may be her husband. Dee greets her sister and mother with an African salutation. It is here, that the differences between the three women begin to emerge. The mere fact that so little of the dialog that occurs involves Maggie, suggests how quiet and reserved she is. The mother comes off as passive and submissive, especially toward Dee. She often gives in to Dees requests without hesitation. For example, she agrees to address Dee by her newfound name, although she is clearly uncomfortable with the idea. She states If thats what you want us to call you, well call you.(). It becomes clear that while Dee is eager to take pictures of the place she once called home, she is glad to have moved on to a more civilized life. However, it also becomes evident that she is confused about her heritage. She announces to her kinfolk that she no longer wishes to be called Dee, but should now be referred to as Wangero. She exclaims that she cant ...bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me(). Despite her desire to escape the oppression that her past, she eagerly values the goods that stemmed from the oppression. A set of handmade quilts is just such an example. Dee expresses an interest in the ancestral quilts that have already been promised to Maggie. Dee feels that Maggie is not worthy of the quilts because Maggie will surely put them to everyday use, whereas Dee would display them. It is the debate over the quilts that serves as the transition to the closing portion of the story.


After listening to Dee offer several rather demeaning reasons as to why Maggie is not deserving of the quilts, the mother experiences a sudden urge to rebel against her eldest daughter. She takes the quilts from Dees clutches and gives them to Maggie, in a sense dismissing all of Dees accusations. The act of ripping the quilts from Dee and dumping them into Maggies lap liberates the two. It is an exclamation of their comfort with their place in the world. Maggie is clearly taken aback by her mothers actions Maggie just sat there on my bed with her mouth open.(4). After Dees exit from the scene a sudden and new mood is set. Now Maggie is describe as smiling. The mother describes the smile as ...a real smile, not scared.(5) This is in sharp contrast to the timid and sheepish girl in the opening scene. Next the two women sit and enjoy there time outside in the yard, where the story first began.


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Everyday Use. Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Eighth Edition. New York Longman, 00. 88-5.


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