Everyday Use Questions and Answers
by Alice Walker

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What does the yard symbolize in "Everyday Use"?

The yard in "Everyday Use" may symbolize freedom, peace, new beginnings, and embracing one's identity. Because the yard is an extension of the house, it may also symbolize contentment, as the house represents the life Maggie and Mama have built for themselves and love.

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Much of the action of "Everyday Use" occurs outside; in fact, the yard appears in the opening line:

I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon.

Mama describes this space as not simply a yard but "an extended living room." Life happens out here, but without the confines of the walls of the house. The yard is free and open, allowing for possibility and hope. Mama takes great pains to make sure her yard is carefully swept so that she presents her living space well.

When their first house burned down, Mama and her daughters escaped to the yard. As they watched their house burn, Mama had seen the look in Dee's eyes, realizing how much she had hated their home. She had this revelation under the sweet gum tree outside.

Mama and Maggie also meet Dee—recently renamed Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo—outside in the yard this time when she returns home. They watch Dee take Polaroid photos of the outside of the house, capturing the yard as she frames her photos.

The conflict about the quilts takes place inside the house, which presents as a much more stifling setting than the freedom and peace of the outdoors, where Maggie and Mama are at the end of the story as Dee leaves. Thus, the yard may be viewed as a symbol of peace and contentment. It is the space in which Mama and Maggie sit after Maggie finally wins a victory over Dee, having been given the quilts by their mother when Dee demanded to have them.

For possibly the first time in her life, Maggie has not been overshadowed by Dee, and perhaps this experience will allow her to embrace and take pride in her identity. In this sense, the yard could also symbolize a new beginning for Maggie. Additionally, as an extension of the house, the yard represents the life Mama and Maggie have built for themselves: it is a life Dee has been eager to leave behind, but one in which Mama and Maggie are content.

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