Walker's 'Everyday Use.'

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Author: John Gruesser
Editor: Jelena O. Krstovic
Date: 2007
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 97)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 854 words

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[(essay date spring 2003) In the following essay, Gruesser explores the meaning of animal imagery in the setting, characterization, and themes of "Everyday Use."]

Images of animals and references to animal husbandry pervade Alice Walker's justly famous 1973 short story "Everyday Use." Not only is each of the three characters, Mama, Maggie, and Dee, explicitly or implicitly associated with animals, but the story takes place in a "pasture" (27), down the road from which several "beef-cattle peoples" (30) live and work. Some of the comparisons between the women and fauna are highly conventional or purely descriptive: Maggie's memory is linked to that of an elephant (31); the voice of a pleading Dee sounds as "sweet as a bird" (32); Dee's hair stands erect "like the wool on a sheep" (28); and her pigtails are compared to "small lizards disappearing behind her ears" (28). Image patterns involving cows and dogs, however, foreshadow the story's climactic scene, in which Mama decides to give the quilts to Maggie rather than Dee, and they play an integral role in the scene itself and its aftermath.

Mama frequently describes Maggie as a docile, somewhat frightened animal, one that accepts the hand that fate has dealt her and attempts to flee any situation posing a potential threat. When...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420075854