Who are the protagonist, antagonist and foil in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The central conflict of Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is complex.  The narrator/mother and Maggie represent traditional black women and family, what they in fact are.  Dee represents what some think black women should become.  As such, the mother could be considered the protagonist and Dee the antagonist.  The mother decides the conflict when she stands up to Dee and insists that the two heirloom quilts should be kept for Maggie as was promised.  Maggie, in the mother's view, is more deserving.  She will put the quilts to "everyday use," not display them as a sign of her heritage as Dee wants to do.  The mother and Maggie have dignity in their own right.

I'm afraid I cannot really comment on the foil in the play.  I don't really see one.  You could say Maggie handles herself as one should and Dee does not, but they are so naturally different a case for Maggie being a foil seems to me to be a stretch.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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"Everyday Use' is the story about two daughters and their mother.  One sister, Dee, is smart and goes away to college, and establishes herself in the city.  The other sister, Maggie, is shy and introverted.  She is a simple girl that has burns on her arms.  Dee comes home from college to visit her mother.  During the visit she sees her mothers quilt.  It excites her and she desires it for what it can bring her.  In the city quilts are popular and represent her heritage. She sees it as symbol of her identity but also a thing of status.  Maggie does not argue for the quilt.  Her mother chooses to give it to her.  Dee, could be considered the antagonist at this juncture, because she does not understand why her mother would give the quilt to her sister.  She knows that her sister will use it on her bed aging the quilt.  Maggie needs the quilt more, and she would be the protagonist.  Her mother giving her the quilt lifts her up as she sees her mother loves her.  In the past she has always felt beneath Dee.

lit24's profile pic

lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The word 'protagonist' means the principal character in a play or in a story. In Alice Walker's poignant short story "Everyday Use" the protagonist is the mother of Maggie and Dee.

She is the narrator and the focaliser of the story and everything that happens in the story is told to us by her and we see everything from her perspective, consequently she is the most important character or the protagonist in the story.

Most significantly,it is the mother who decides that Maggie and not Dee who must be given the quilts which had been stitched by the grandmother of the girls. At the end of the story the mother snatches the quilts from Dee's (Miss Wangero) hands and gives it to Maggie:

 

I looked at her hard. She had filled her bottom lip with checkerberry snuff and gave her face a kind of dopey, hangdog look. It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself. She stood there with her scarred hands hidden in the folds of her skirt. She looked at her sister with something like fear but she wasn't mad at her. This was Maggie's portion. This was the way she knew God to work.

When I looked at her like that something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet. Just like when I'm in church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout. I did some.thing I never done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero's hands and dumped them into Maggie's lap. Maggie just sat there on my bed with her mouth open.

It is this decisive act of the mother by which she asserts her authority and proves that she sympathizes with Maggie, which marks her out as the protagonist of the story.

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