Everyday Use Questions and Answers
by Alice Walker

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What is the tone of "Everyday Use"?

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sagetrieb eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The tone of a story concerns the attitude of the narrator or character toward the subject matter or the attitude of the author toward the subject matter. In “Everyday Use,” we would describe tone through the attitude of the narrator, Mama., and her tone changes throughout the story. In the opening sentences she is boastful about how nice the yard looks, but she quickly becomes defensive when she begins talking about Dee and then compares herself to her, describing herself as “a large big-boned woman with rough, man-working hand.” Yet even while she defends her own sense of self, she never slides into deprecation but maintains a tone of pride: “Johnny Carson has much to do to keep up with my quick and witty tongue.” She is compassionate when she speaks about Maggie, but critical when she speaks about Dee and frequently sarcastic when she speaks to her.  However, I think the author becomes somewhat critical of her narrator when, at the end of the story, she chastises Dee so severely and shows so little love for her while hugging Maggie close to her. The image is a harsh one—a mother hugging one daughter and, in effect, banishing the other. When Dee says, “You just don’t understand” to her mother, I believe we hear just a bit of Walker’s voice in that comment for the narrator’s understanding is not complete; she has no sympathy for the identity crisis that Dee, along with many other African Americans at this time, was experiencing.

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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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That depends on the character you follow. Maggie is withdrawn, plain, uneducated, scarred from a previous housefire, and unsure of herself...especially in the presence of her sister.  Maggie has not been to school, but she knows how to make butter, how to sew and quilt, and how to do all the "everyday things" that Dee has never learned.

Dee is prettier, more confident, educated, and worldly.  Her attitude is one of arrogance and condescension, where Maggie's is one of quiet resolution.  She is used to giving in to her sister who always gets what she wants..."the world never says 'no' to Dee".

Momma is telling the story about Dee's visit home.  She has adopted African dress and an African name.  Dee has brought along a male companion.  Dee disdains her family and the home where she grew up in the rural south, but she wants their household items which she sees as valuable heirlooms.  Maggie has been promised the family quilts which Dee covets.  Dee argues that Maggie will "only put them to everyday use", and she is determined to have them for herself.  Maggie, as usual, gives in with much resentment and anger, slamming the door to show it. 

Momma surprises herself and finally defies Dee by standing up for Maggie to whom she has promised grandma's quilts.  They are Maggie's wedding gift, and Dee screams that they do not understand their heritage.  Maggie, more than Dee, is in touch with her heritage.

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kimberelly | Student

Walker seems to reveal in the story the different perspectives of African American women during the time the story was set. She shows how distant Dee, who has left home to seek a higher education, seems to be from her family. Dee, who is described as a beautiful, confident and intelligent young woman, seemingly always gets what she wants. Through out the story she is set up to sound as if she is on a higher level than her mother and sister; the story suggests that she is arrogant and doesn’t have a true grasp and understanding of her heritage. Dee seems to be more focused on the materialistic heirlooms than on the respect of her family members. The author communicates this by the way she describes Dee’s dress, delicate figure and interests compared to the contrasting description of her mother who is big boned, strong and manly due to her hard work. The author shows that Maggie and Mrs. Johnson are more knowledgeable when it comes to doing “every day” activities that sustain their lives; they are presented to be knowledgeable and understanding of their heritage, despite their lack of education.

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