What do we learn about each of the characters through their behavior or attitude towards the family’s house?

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englishteacher72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator, the mother of the two girls, is a hard-working, honest woman who is big-boned and has the hands of a man.  Her two daughters are foils to each other: Dee is educated and living and going to college in the city.  Maggie is plain and physically scarred from the fire that destroyed their house and most of their belongings when the girls were little.  Dee is good looking and intelligent, and likes nice things.  Maggie has always seen Dee as having the world handed to her.  While Maggie cannot read well and is by no means intelligent, she is not ignorant and knows the importance of hard work and family.  She is nervous to know her sister is coming home for a visit, and even their mother has busied herself by making the house look as nice as it can.  When Dee comes home, she announces that she has changed her name to "Wangero" to free herself of the name given to her by the people who oppressed her.  This statement shows the obvious shame Dee feels about her upbringing and the place in which she grew up.  Her materialistic nature is also evident when she insists on taking the handmade quilts that their grandmother stitched.  Her mother refuses, saying she promised those quilts to Maggie.  Dee insists that since Maggie able to make a quilt herself, she doesn't need those quilts.  The narrator realizes that Dee does not want the quilts in rememberance of her grandmother, but because they have worth.  Maggie wants those quilts because of the happy memories they conjure up of their grandmother.  Their mother puts her foot down and gives the quilts to Maggie, and Dee leaves in a huff. 

mkcapen1 | Student

In the short story by Alice Walker "Everyday Use" we learn some specific things about the characters.

The house has a red clay yard that is swept by the mother.  It serves to provide an extended living room.  Red clay is common in southern towns, so we have learned that he characters originally reside in the south.  The house is not real nice.  It has a tin roof which in the era of the home would have been put on a poor person's home.  Therefore, we know the family does not have much money. 

The mother does not like to look at her home.  She sits outside with her back to it looking away.  it is uncomfortable inside because no breezes blow through it.  It is home though and a place for the mother to live.  She has accepted her fate that she lives within her means.

Deehates the house.  She is the daughter that has moved away and risen above the abode and her poverty.  She wants her mother to leave the types of homes she has chosen to live in.  For Dee it represents poverty and shame.  Dee now lives in a better environment in the city.

Later when Dee comes to visit she surprises her mother by taking many pictures of her sitting in front of the house.  The reader questions if Dee has taken these pictures to represent the now popular historic aspect of how poor blacks have lived or if she wants to use them to show off how far she had come since her childhood.  She wants the quilts for their nostalgic view because those things have become popular ad expensive; the pictures may have been taken to represent the same.

For Maggie, the house is a place to hide away and to seek comfort.  She was badly burned once and she is also intimidated by her sister Dee.  When Dee arrives Maggie starts to run inside the house to hide.  Maggie is shy and introverted.


"I have deliberately turned my back on the house. It is three rooms, just like the one that burned, except the roof is tin; they don't make shingle roofs any more. There are no real windows, just some holes cut in the sides, like the portholes in a ship, but not round and not square, with rawhide holding the shutters up on the outside. This house is in a pasture, too, like the other one. No doubt when Dee sees it she will want to tear it down."

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Everyday Use

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