How does knowing the text help you comment on the conflict and message of "Everyday Use?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Knowing the text in "Everyday Use" allows the reader to see the conflict and message in Walker's short story.

When we become intimately familiar with the text, the reader pays close attention to significant moments.  For example, when the narrator describes Maggie's reaction to Dee's arrival, knowing the text helps to reveal much:  "I hear Maggie suck in her breath. "Uhnnnh, " is what it sounds like. Like when you see the wriggling end of a snake just in front of your foot on the road. "Uhnnnh."  Maggie inhaling and making a sound of frustration is reflective of the conflict that exists between both sisters.  The conflict shows how each views reality in a different manner. Dee sees reality as one that benefits her, while Maggie sees her reality as almost secondary to her sister.  The text reveals this at the moment that Dee asks for the handmade quilts:  "I heard something fall in the kitchen, and a minute later the kitchen door slammed." This detail shows the dissonance between both sisters.  It helps to reflect the conflict between them both and how possession of the quilt will display it. Knowing the text brings this out and helps the reader understand more about the family dynamics.

Paying attention to the text also helps to illuminate the story's theme.  The collision between superficiality and authenticity is seen at different points in the text.  Examples of this would be the language that describes the yard as "more comfortable than most people know" and when Dee discrediting her sister when she says  "Maggie would put them [the quilts] on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!" Knowing the text and appreciating these moments help the reader recognize the story's thematic development.  

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bohemianteacher4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In the story “Everyday Use,” we find the text is highly descriptive, allowing the reader to visualize the home of the mother.  The author develops the scene so that one can climb into the story visually.  The mother sweeping the dirt porch enables the reader to understand that there is no grass or ornamentation, but practicality.  The description of the house demonstrates the level of poverty and the miserable condition of living in an old home with only two windows that allow for air flow.  This leads one back to the value of having a yard that is used as an extension of the home.  The daughter, Maggie, is described for her meekness and lack of ability to rise above her environment.  The words illustrate her looks so the reader knows that she is not a beauty but a damaged, gentle individual.  The sister, Dee, becomes a strikingly visual arrival with her car and man at her side.  Each detail serves to project Dee's upward movement and loss of connection to the life she has come from.  Her past life is viewed by her as poverty and deprivation. The text describes her clothing so that the reader can see that Dee has come to embrace her African heritage verses her past life in the rural home.  Even the quilt is a textual representation of the bond between mother and child and a reflection of the past.  Dee identifies the quilt as a thing to be used for art on a wall, but to her mother and Maggie, it is a part of their everyday life.  The decision to give the quilt to Maggie establishes the closeness between Mrs. Johnson and her daughter and the distance between Mrs. Johnson and Dee.

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