Essay on the Setting of Everyday Use

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In the short story, "Everyday Use", author Alice Walker uses everyday objects, which are described in the story with some detail, and the reactions of the main characters to these objects, to contrast the simple and practical with the stylish and faddish. The main characters in this story, "Mama" and Maggie on one side, Dee on the other, each have opposing views on the value and worth of the various items in their lives, and the author uses this conflict to make the point that the substance of an object, and of people, is more important than style.

The main characters in this story appear to be polar opposites. Mama, the narrator of the story, describes herself as a "large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands" (paragraph 5). She does not paint an attractive picture of herself, however she goes on to list the many things she can do. Like the items in the setting around her, she seems more interested in practicality, and less interested in aesthetics. Dee, on the other hand, is defined by her sense of style, and does not seem to do anything. When her name was Dee, she hated the objects around her for their lack of beauty and style. When she became a member of the Nation of Islam and changed her name to Wangero, she saw these old items as a part of her heritage and works of art. At no time, however, did she ever have a real use for them.

Examples of such items are the butter churn and dasher. The butter churn and dasher are both described in detail by Mama, which highlights their value to her. The butter churn, which had been whittled by Dee's Uncle Buddy, was something that Dee wanted to take back with her, even though she only wanted to use the churn top as a "centerpiece for the alcove table" (paragraph 53). The bottom half, presumably, would be wasted. Dee would also "think of something artistic to do with the dasher" (paragraph 53). Dee never seems to consider that she is taking away her mother's butter churn, a useful item, for a trivial use.

The objects that lead to the final confrontation between Dee and Mama are the old quilts. These quilts are described as being made from old material by family members, which enhances their value to Mama, and the detail with which they are described increases the sense of setting.

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