Tuesday, 1 December 2015

1. Everyday Use by Alice Walker

Plot, character and setting

Everyday Use takes place during the 1960’s, centering around the Black Pride movement in which black Americans celebrated their culture and heritage - many wore African apparel adopted African names and learnt African languages. It explores the conflict between a mother and two daughters. The story is narrated by the mother. One of the daughters, Dee, comes to visit. Dee is very political and very much in touch with the Black Pride movement, in comparison to her meek sister - Maggie. The climax of the plot is reached when she asks to have some rugs to hang up, demanding they’re part of her heritage - the mother ultimately insists they go to Maggie who will use them for ‘everyday use,’ just as her ancestors would have - thus meaning she’s more in touch with the family’s heritage. Walker is making a fundamental point in this text, critically analysing Black Pride

Literary Analysis 

Walker uses a narrative structure, a short story convention, in this work - building up slowly to a conflict. She creates tension and conflict in a number of different ways, for instance - voiced disapproval from the narrator. When Dee arrives at the home, which is beginning of the building of tension, her mother writes negatively of her hair, 'It stands straight up like the wool on a sheep. It is black as night and around the edges are two long pigtails that rope about like small lizards disappearing behind her ears. ‘ In using animalistic simile here, Walker immediately indicates the mother's negative attitude towards the hair. Thus, the reader immediately senses disapproval and tension is created. 

The characterisation of Dee also plays an important part in Walker’s communication of ideas of family and heritage. Dee is characterised as fake, the audience comes to distrust and resent Dee, which plays into portrayal of parts of Black Pride as fake, almost as if Dee is a personification of this concept. Dee doesn’t understand her own family’s heritage and yet accuses her family of not understanding their heritage. Walker depicts this ignorant portrait of Dee when Dee says '“And I want the dasher too,” demonstrative of her complacency and her entitlement over her family, which further demonstrates her lack of understanding of her family.  

The decision to voice the story in first person allows the audience to empathise with the narrator - the mother. 

How does the text reflect an aspect of American culture? 

America’s history is tainted by racial prejudice and ways to counteract it. Black Americans are continually and consistently underrepresented  undermined and vilified. Stories that are told to counteract this and to tell the stories that are rarely told in the history of mainstream American culture. This story tells the story of a radical period of change - the 1960’s, it’s context is reflective of a key period of change in the American narrative.  It also explores values and themes surrounding family - a reoccurring theme in American literature. Alice Walker is a key writer in telling the stories of Black Americans and other marginalised group and this text is reflective of this. 

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