Analyzing characterization is the key to find fiction’s controlling idea and central insight–theme. Direct presentation–one character description technique–usually directly shows what characters are like by exposition, analysis, or another character’s description. The other way to shape characters is to use the indirect presentation by describing their actions and leaving room for readers to develop their own ideas about the characters. “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is a short story that expresses the conflicts between people’s different attitudes and values of heritage.
This story is a dramatic story, but one that uses first-person point of view to narrate the story, which gives readers a fresh reading experience. In the story, Dee, a black lady who has been educated, comes to visit her Mama and her younger sister, Maggie. Dee interests in many of the daily-used heritages in the family and wants to take something back for art appreciation. Mama does not refuse any of Dee’s requests until Dee wants to have the inherited quilt, which she plans to give to Maggie as a dowry.
Dee does not understand the behaviour of Maggie and Mama of putting the treasures into everyday use, and she blames that they do not know the value of those quilts. This work of fiction uses both direct and indirect presentation of Dee, Maggie, and Mama to express the central theme as that the differences between people’s ideas toward heritage widely exist in society, from objective-oriented to subjective-oriented and the conflicts in between. “Everyday Use” uses both indirect and direct presentations to show that Dee’s view of heritage is objective-oriented.
Readers can judge from Dee’s behaviors and Mama’s thoughts of Dee to realize that she tries to abstract heritage from the real life and emotions and wants to appreciate and pass the culture by displaying and showing the cultural symbols objectively; meanwhile, she completes the thinking of the essence of heritage. When Dee tries to explain the value of the quilt, she says that “‘These old quilts.. are all pieces of dresses Grandma used to wear… stitching by hand… Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts. She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use…
Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be in rags. I’ll hang them'”(114). This narration should be regarded as indirect presentation because readers need to develop Dee’s thoughts by judging her speaking. This indirect presentation leads readers to understand Dee’s view of heritage. Dee tries to seek for the cultural characteristics, like stitching by hand, in the quilt instead of focusing on the actual uses and emotional sustenance of it in the real life, thus she abstracts the quilt to be one cultural symbol of her grandmother’s era.
Dee considers that only this cultural symbol be displayed and showed objectively can it present its greatest value; however, if people actually put the quilt into everyday use like Maggie, when the quilt turns to rags, this cultural symbol will disappear; therefore, the whole heritage will be broken and have gaps. The process of abstracting cultural characteristics from real life and subjective emotions is a kind of process of objective thinking. Therefore, Dee’s behavior is a reflection of her objective-oriented view of heritage. Dee’s objective-oriented thinking also leads her to seek for the essence of heritage.
When Mama and Maggie are both afraid of the smart and powerful white people, “Dee, though. She will always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation is no part of her nature” (109). This narration has direct presentation in it, because readers can directly know Dee’s character by Mama’s describing at the latter part. This direct presentation leads readers to understand Dee’s idea. Dee’s character and behavior reflect her agreement of the equality of heritages, in which she does not have to be afraid to anyone from other cultures that seems more powerful.
However, if Dee wants to get to know the idea of the equality of heritages, she firstly has to summarize and contrast the essences between different cultures. This process is about abstracting the heritage objectively. Only with this process can Dee understand that the essences of all the heritages are all about the spirits and behaviors of specific group in a certain era, without attaching any differences between high and low. Therefore, Dee’s character and behavior also reflect that her thinking of heritage is objective- oriented.
Maggie’s view of heritage, on the contrary, can be known as subjective-oriented in this story by both indirect and direct presentations. Readers can analyze Maggie’s behaviors and Mama’s descriptions about her to understand that she attempts to consider heritage as emotional sustenance and value, and can be passed on by putting it into everyday use with self-experiencing. When Maggie tries to give the quilt to Dee, she says that “‘I can remember Grandma Dee without the quilts'” (115).
This narration of Maggie should be regarded as an indirect presentation because readers need to judge her by thinking of her action of speaking. This indirect presentation clearly shows Maggie’s view of heritage. As the view of Maggie, the function of the quilt is to remind her about her grandmother. Maggie places her missing of Grandma into the quilt specifically, and keeps it to be her emotional sustenance. Many pieces of memory will be reminded when she sees this emotional sustenance, thus she will get spiritual solaces.
In another form, this quilt also reflects some lifestyles of Maggie, and those things make Maggie feel relax and comfortable. The seeking for the spirits and emotions must lead Maggie to choose to value and pass the heritage by putting them into everyday use with self-experiencing. When Dee wants to point out that Maggie does not know the value of the quilt, she claims that “‘Maggie would put them on the bed'” (115). This sentence uses direct presentation to narrate Maggie because readers will directly know Maggie’s intension described by Dee.
This direct presentation clearly shows Maggie’s view of heritage. Maggie will choose to value and pass the heritage by using it. In Maggie’s point of view, the heritage carries her emotions toward her life, and only if she experiences the daily life under the heritage by herself can she express her emotions out. Meanwhile, she will also add her own emotions into the heritage and pass it. Above all, Maggie’s view of heritage is almost based on the reason of self-emotions.
There is no doubt that this kind of think is a kind of subjective-oriented. Mama, as the narrator of the fiction, is often presented indirectly and showed that she has conflicts between the objective-oriented and subjective-oriented ideas toward heritage. Readers can analyze her behaviors to recognize that though she does not reject the idea of objective-oriented, yet when there are conflicts and combats between the objective-oriented and subjective-oriented idea, she will stand at the side of the latter one.
When Dee wants to take the dasher with her for her art appreciation, Mama only “take it for a moment in her hands” without refusing to give it to Dee. However, when Dee wants to take the quilt out of the same reason, Mama “snatches the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands” and asks her to “‘take one or two of the others'” (115). These two quotes should be classified into indirect presentations because readers can only judge Mama by her actions. These indirect presentations clearly show Mama’s point of view.
Mama does not totally reject Dee’s objective-oriented idea of heritage. Mama will not obstruct Dee’s behavior of abstracting a heritage into a cultural symbol until the principle has not been broken. Under that principle, Mama may even try her best to help Dee to achieve her goal through Dee’s way. However, once Dee’s objective-oriented idea threats the existence and the interests of Maggie’s subjective-oriented idea, Mama will stand at Maggie’s side to protect her for meeting her needs of emotional sustenance.
This kind of choice, which has principle-adjustments in it, shows that Mama has the conflicts between objective-oriented and subjective-oriented ideas toward the heritage. In short, “Everyday Use” uses both direct presentation and indirect presentation of Dee, Maggie, and Mama to express the theme that the differences between people’s ideas toward heritage widely exist in society, from objective-oriented to subjective-oriented and the conflicts in between.
Heritage is the aggregation of the thoughts and behaviours of a group of people in an certain era. Only if people understand the value of heritage and pass the heritage well can people’s experiences be extended. It is useful for people to understand the advantages and limitations in different ideas toward heritage in society. By understanding that, people then can value and pass the heritages of human beings utmostly by various ways.
Courtney from Study Moose
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