What is a literary elements uesd in "Everyday Use" and how does it enhance the theme of the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One literary device employed by Alice Walker in "Everyday Use" is imagery. Often this imagery builds upon other devices such as metaphor or simile.

The mother, who acts as the narrator, uses animal imagery in her descriptions of her daughters, Maggie and Dee, as well as Dee's boyfriend. In the first instance, the mother asks,

Have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him? That is the way my Maggie walks.

Further, when Wangero (Dee) and her boyfriend Asalamalakim arrive, the boyfriend wishes to shake Maggie's hand. As he does so, "Maggie's hand is as limp as a fish." Here the imagery is part of a simile. The mother also uses animal imagery in another simile as she describes Dee's boyfriend's hair: "It stands straight up like the wool on a sheep." She adds that his long beard hangs "like a kinky mule tail."

The animal imagery used to describe Dee and her boyfriend is humorous, and it points to the ridiculous appearance of the transformed Wangero and her boyfriend. The comparisons also demonstrate the distance that has grown between the mother and her daughter Dee and Hakim-a-barber and their understanding of the meanings and implications of the African American culture and family that are central to the theme.

Interestingly, there is visual imagery, too. These images of seeing allow the reader to consider a motif of Walker's; namely, seeing things from the perspectives of others. This idea of seeing things from others' point of view is essential to the characters' abilities to change and grow. For example, when Dee and Hakim first arrive, the narrator declares that "it is hard to see them clearly through the strong sun." Also, she declares that Dee wears "a dress so loud it hurts my eyes."

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quilts in question serve as a major symbol that helps to illuminate a theme, toward the end of the story. Dee believes that these quilts are "priceless" and that they should be hung on the wall in order to preserve them. Dee claims that Maggie is "backward" because she would put the quilts on a bed and they’d fall apart within the next few years; Mama replies, "'God knows I been saving 'em for long enough with nobody using 'em. I hope she will!'" These quilts symbolize the family’s heritage.

For Dee, heritage is something that is past, something that we preserve, and something that is behind us. It’s partly for this reason, as well, that she wishes to give up her name and choose something that reaches further back into her racial heritage; she doesn’t recognize the heritage in her given name—Dee—also the name of her aunt, her grandmother, and so forth. For Maggie and Mama, heritage is something that they live, something that seems to live and breathe every day in their use of the objects that hold memories of the past. These objects are used for the purposes for which they were intended because that purpose is part and parcel of the family’s heritage. Thus, the symbol of the quilts illuminates the idea that heritage is not something to be preserved and displayed but, rather, something that ought to be enjoyed and made a part of everyday life.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary elements are a category of literary devices (one of two categories) that are not optional. This means that literary elements appear in all literary narratives, whether novels or short stories. Some literary elements are character, theme, plot and conflict, structure, setting, mood, and tone.

One literary element that Walker uses is the structural literary element of flashback. At one point Mrs. Johnson recalls the fire years earlier in which Maggie was tragically burned. The theme of the story is enhanced by this structural element because it provides a greater insight into Dee's and Maggie's inner qualities and to the conflict between them of what everyday objects are valued for: passing ornamentation versus family memories.