Compare characterization techniques for "The  Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien and "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker present characters which the reader will not forget.  Both skilled writers use specific character development plans.

“The Things They Carried” employs a unique approach to character development.   Using props, the character is recognized by the things that he has in his back pack. 

One of the ways that O’Brien develops his characters is by the  role each person plays in the platoon.  For example, Kiowa is the moral leader and Rat Kiley is the story teller.

Kiowa is the nicest of all the soldiers in the platoon.  As a Native American Christian, he  loves to be in church.  His prop is his grandfather’ hunting hatchet and a Bible.  These objects represent an emotional tie to home and something to hold on to when fear overcomes him. He also carries moccasins with him to be able to walk silently.

The story teller is Rat Kiley.  His occupation in the platoon is the medic.  His props include M&Ms.  He loves to tell stories but he also adds a lot information to the stories to make them interesting.  He is a good soldier and carefully cares for his wounded. 

As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things that a medic must carry…for a weight of twenty pounds.

In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the writer uses the narrator to provide characterization.  There are three women who play an important role in the purpose of the story. 

In creating her characters, Walker focuses on the personalities of the women.  Through Mama’s honest narration, the reader learns what separates these women in their views of life.

Mama’s personality is gentle and strict.  Mama does not have many valuable material things’ yet, her greatest possessions are those that have been made by her mother and grandmother, particularly the quilts that they made for her.  They are her family legacy.  Dee wants to take these things for herself to show them off to illustrate her black heritage.

Maggie’s character centers on her injury and burns that she received when the house burned down.  Her mother describes her as nervous about her sister coming to visit and ashamed about her scars.  Her mother describes her as homely. It is obvious that Mama compares Dee to Maggie, and Maggie does not come close to Dee in looks or intelligence. In the end of the story, Mama will realize that Maggie who desperately wants and deserves her mother’s love and attention.

Dee was named after her grandmother. Since she has been away at college, she has taken on the role of a black activist.  She has changed her name to Wangero.  Dee has never liked her home---it was not good enough for her. She watched and did not try to help Maggie when the house burned.  Now she has come back to get things to decorate her home to show off her black heritage.  When she wants the quilts made by her ancestors, for the first time, Mama tells Dee “no.” She promised the quilts to Maggie. 

Dee is incensed by this because she knows that Maggie will use them for everyday use. When she realizes that she will not get her way, Dee leaves telling her mother and sister that they do not understand what their heritage is. Walker’s purpose is to show the different generations of characters illustrating that change is not always good.

Read the study guide:
Everyday Use

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question