Everyday Use by Alice Walker Plot of the Short Story


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The short story, “Everyday Use,” by Alice Walker displays a rich bond between a mother and her daughters and the importance of how this bond contributes to the character’s African American heritage and their African American identity. There is a conflict when Dee comes home and challenges her family’s value towards their African heritage. “Everyday Use” presents many uses of symbolism throughout this story. Symbolism is defined when something in the text like a person, object, or word represents an abstract idea that is not directly given to the readers. The symbols in the story help show just how important heritage is to the Johnson family and how Dee and her mother’s views differ on the importance of keeping their heritage preserved and living.

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“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker immediately, the first sentence, starts off talking about the yard as they wait for Dee’s arrival. Previous to Dee’s arrival Maggie and mama cleaned the yard to their perfection, “I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon. A yard like this is more comfortable than most people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an extended living room. 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 breezes that never come inside the house.”(Alice Walker 1) With this being said the yard is a symbol in this story, for mama her yard is a safe space to her, it is free of any disappointment or any flaws, unlike her life which is filled with misfortune and regret. Mama describes the yard to an “extended living room” which she enjoys over the inside of the tight house. Mama enjoys the yard for the air is fresher than inside the house, “anyone can come and sit and look up into the elm tree and wait for the breezes that never come inside the house where the air is stale and still.”(Alice Walker 1) Many uncomfortable situations throughout the story happen within the house, like the argument about who gets the quilts, where the yard is free from these misfortunes, where mama can escape and just enjoy, like when Dee, and her negative energy left, “After we watched the car dust settle I asked Maggie to bring me a dip of snuff. And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.”(Alice walker 7)

In contrast to the yard, the house is another symbol given to us in “everyday Use,” by Alice Walker. The house is a representation of amenity and the hurt and hardship that is infiltrated throughout their family history making their heritage what it is today. Maggie and mama view the house for its connection to the family, and how it compares to the old house they had before this one, and how it represents their family heritage as the house is passed down through their families generations, that’s why they love it. However, Dee despised the old house. Dee feels that she wants to forget the house because of the part of their family history that is of hurtful past memories, like the past history of slavery in their family.  

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