What is the significance of Walker’s early characterization of the narrator in “Everyday Use”?

Alice Walker's characterization of the narrator in “Everyday Use” emphasizes the distinction between the kind of woman the narrator actually is (practical, strong, and hardworking) and the woman her daughter Dee would like her to be (the kind she would be proud to show on TV).

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker allows the narrator to describe herself, both implicitly and explicitly. We first get to know “Mama” by her description of the yard. She and Maggie have cleaned it up and made it comfortable. They like to live outside and catch the breezes, but the narrator also likes things as neat and as clean as possible.

We also learn something important about the narrator in her little daydream about meeting her successful daughter on TV. She would like to do that, like to be together with Dee in that way, to have Dee proud of her and to make a good impression, to be the woman Dee would like her to be.

But the narrator knows that she is not that woman, and as a contrast to her daydream, she describes herself, and she does so vividly and in detail. The narrator is a strong woman, “large” and “big-boned,” “with rough, man-working hands.” Her clothing is simple and practical, overalls and flannel nightgowns. She can and does do a man's work, and it doesn't matter how unpleasant that work may be. She gets it done. There is no squeamishness in this narrator either. “I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire minutes after it comes steaming from the hog,” she declares. This is a hardworking, practical woman, yet she is always aware that she is an embarrassment to her daughter.

Walker's characterization of the narrator especially emphasizes this last point. The narrator is simply who she is, but her daughter cannot accept her for that. Dee wants a mother custom-made to her specifications rather than appreciating the mother she has.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial