Please explain some figures of speech in "Everyday Use"?I have to present about figures of speech in this story, but I do not understand clearly about it. Please, help me!!!

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Figures of speech allow speakers to say things more vividly and forcefully than if they were to simply say something directly.  Besides having the freshness to their ideas that using figures of speech affords them, speakers can really say more with figurative language than they can with the mere literal.  That is, figures of speech afford speakers the means of adding extra dimensions to their words.

In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," the mother who acts as narrator embellishes many of her words with such figures of speech that reveal her astute observations on life.  Here are some examples to get you started in your search:

  • In the introductory paragraph, she describes the yard with a simile (a comparison using like or as): 
  • Further, there is a description of her dream, which is a figurative way of expressing her hope that her daughter Dee will demonstrate love and appreciation someday for the sacrifices that she has made for her.
  • In the tenth paragraph, the mother describes the fire that has disfigured her daughter Maggie, employing sound imagery and metaphor [an unstated comparison]:

Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie's arm sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes.

  • In her description of Dee's youth when she read to Maggie and her, the mother states uses a couple more metaphors:

She of makewashed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't necessarily need to know.  Pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understand. (the bold words are metaphoric, except the last simile)

In this paragraph, the mother vividly describes the attitude of young Dee as she reads, as well as connoting how her act of reading was a show of superiority, not love.

In addition to these examples of figurative language, Walker's story contains the vibrant symbol of the quilts, which represent the connection of family and history.  And, the theme is itself about symbolism as Maggie has been "burned" by life, her life, as well as her dress falling in "papery flakes."  The mother's "man-working hands" symbolize her having to play the roles of both father and mother. 

Then, there is, of course, the irony of Dee's wish to appreciate her heritage by taking her grandmother's quilts.  But, she looks to the African heritage of her race rather than her true origin of family and the people who raised her, an origin Maggie truly understands; thus, her mother gives the quilts to her.

(Please see the link on style below for more explanation of symbolism)