Everyday Use Questions and Answers
by Alice Walker

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What is the imagery in "Everyday Use"?

Walker uses imagery in "Everyday Use" through similes and descriptions of the house, people, and experiences to characterize Mama, Maggie, and Dee and to highlight the contrasts between them. Imagery also paints a picture of the kind of simple, practical, rural life that Mama and Maggie lead.

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Imagery is description that uses any of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell.

In this story, Mama, the narrator, uses much visual imagery to set the scene and emphasize the contrast between her life and the life of Dee (and the average reader).

By using imagery, for example, to describe her modest home, Mama is able to communicate that she and Maggie are poor, rural people:

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.

By using imagery, Mama doesn't need to tell us she is poor: she has shown us. Also, by having Mama use imagery, Walker allows her to convey her poverty while at the same time not being completely aware of or bothered by it herself.

Mama's imagery also shows us that Maggie has had a disadvantaged life and reveals too that Maggie was caught and scarred in the fire that burned down the old house:

Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie's arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them.

This imagery, though primarily visual, also mentions the sound of the flames and the feel of Maggie's arms, helping to convey the fullness of what happened to Maggie.

Walker also has Mama use similes to convey images. Similes are comparisons that use the words like or as. For example, Mama says the pale color she dreams her skin to be in a fantasy is "like an uncooked barley pancake." She offers us a visual image of her preferred skin tone which helps characterize her by showing the everyday context of her life. She also uses a simile to describe Dee's boyfriend's hair:

Hair is all over his head a foot long and hanging from his chin like a kinky mule tail.

This not only gives us a visual, it again characterizes Mama as a person who lives a simple, rural life.

Finally, Mama uses two contrasting images to highlight the difference between her life and Dee's. Dee puts on "sunglasses" as drives off while Mama and Maggie sit in the yard with a "dip of snuff."

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