How Characters in Everyday Use by Alice Walker are Compared to Different Animals

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The story “Everyday Use” is written by Alice Walker. “Everyday Use” is narrated by a middle-aged black woman who has two daughters: Maggie and Dee. Dee is depicted as a smart but ruthless college girl, while Maggie is a sweet but ineffectual homebody. The story frequently discusses animal characteristics that parallel the three female characters: the mother, Maggie and Dee.

The mother as a character is compared to the cow. In the beginning the mother describes herself; “In real life I am a large, big boned woman, with rough man-working hands…my fat keeps me hot in zero weather, I can work outside all day” (149).

Later in the story the mother says she used to love milking cows; “Cows are soothing and slow and don’t bother you unless you try to milk them the wrong way” (150). In a sense the mother describes her common characteristics. The description of herself vividly parallels the qualities of a cow. She is large, similar to a cow and big boned.

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The image of rough hands assimilates with a cow being a rougher less fragile animal. The description of her fat that keeps her hot in cold weather and her being able to work outside all day creates the image of the cow who carries a large amount of fat to enable it to stay outside all year round. The mother also lives in the middle of a cow pasture, this evidently adds to the cow imagery. The fact of the mother being an older black woman, could also incorporate that in the days of slave labor black women were perceived as “breeders” like the cow because they were valued in terms of their ability to reproduce.

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The animal imagery of the cow prominently relates to the mother.

The character Maggie is described and paralleled to two animals the dog and the elephant. Maggie is the younger sibling who is shy, heavy and lacking self-confidence. Maggie’s mother describes her as she comes out of the house; “Have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some care-less person rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him? That is the way Maggie walks” (149). These words truly describe Maggie as a lame animal such as the dog. A dog is innocent as is Maggie, obedient and easily influenced, exactly how Maggie is depicted in the story. Dee, Maggie’s sister describes Maggie; “Maggie’s brain is like an elephant’s” (151). Elephants are perceived as being slow and useless, this is Dee’s opinion and description of her sister. Maggie is juxtaposed with animals that are slow, obedient, innocent, and useless, all true portrayals of her character.

Dee the eldest is imaged as animals such as the bird and the sheep. Dee has a nice figure; she is attractive and has a drive for a better life. Dee’s mother describes her voice;” “Mama”, she said, sweet as a bird” (151). Birds are seen as beautiful and free. Dee definitely is beautiful and has a free spirit, always wanting to go somewhere. The mother talks about Dee’s hair; “It stands straight up like the wool on a sheep” (150). Sheep are known to be useful, sharp, active and valued animals, Dee is all of these. It can also be said that Dee is the “black sheep” of the family in that she is the opposite of her mother and sister. Dee does not understand her heritage. The quilts in the story represent the past of the women in the family. Dee wants to hang the quilts on the wall but for Maggie, she would put them to everyday use. Perhaps it is Maggie who truly understands the culture of her family. Dee has not come to that understanding she is therefore “the black sheep”.

The thematic richness of “Everyday Use” is made possible by the flexible, perceptive voice of the first-person narrator. It is through the mother’s point of view which permits the readers understanding of all three women. The animal imagery in prospect to the women allows the reader to assimilate animal characteristics and human characteristics. Since animals and humans have lived together and been an integral part of existing for many years, it allows for a better understanding of the characters present in this story. Alice Walker has written a meaningful, captivating and unique story.

 

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How Characters in Everyday Use by Alice Walker are Compared to Different Animals. (2022, Apr 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/how-characters-in-everyday-use-by-alice-walker-are-compared-to-different-animals-essay

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