In “Everyday Use”, author, Alice Walker uses the backdrop of a small town family using characters Maggie and Dee and Mama to symbolize the dynamics of the greater African American color, educational and class struggle in America. She uses the family because it is an institution that every reader can identify with. This is a story of what it really means to “make it” in the Black family and Black community. Mama typifies the single parent who is functioning in the dual role of mother and father. Walker makes no mention of Dee and Maggie’s father in the story but rather characterizes Mama as a “big-boned woman with man-working hands”(1) and gives Mama all the physical qualities and skills of a man but embodied in a woman. Mama can slaughter and prepare hogs and bull calves; she can bust up blocks of ice to get the water needed in the house for washing. And she can do all of these things as “mercilessly as a man”(1). From the beginning of the story, Mama’s character takes on the strength and hardness of presencenormally represented in a man. With Mama, the author shows the daily struggles and assimilation of the dual role that single mothers must embody on a daily basis inthe absence of a father figure. The outward display of Mama’s strength is a foreshadowing of the strength that she will have to summon at the end of the story when she must ultimately decide which daughter will receive the quilts. Mama’s children, Dee and Maggie have their own set of paradoxical differences which are juxtaposed against each other not unlike their mother. There is the conflict of light skinned versus darker skinned; well spoken and educated versus reticent and ignorant. A shapely body with perfect feet versus a skinny and badly burned girl with no style. Brazen and head strong versus cowering and confused. Dee and Maggie are polar opposites of each other, with all of the positive attributes in the favor of the older sister, Dee. The author is illustrating how...
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