How does the setting in Walker's "Everyday Use" enhance its tone and mood?

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All three characters exhibit a lack of understanding of each other's culture and background. Dee, who has assimilated into white culture, does not sympathize with Mama and Maggie's African American heritage. She says to them, "You can't be proud of being black and ignorant at the same time" (80). Maggie is uncomfortable around Dee because she knows that Dee is more judgmental than sympathetic toward her and her family. When Dee says, "You live in a world where people are so backward they don't even speak English," (81) Maggie knows that she and her mother will not receive sympathy from their sister.

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Setting refers to the time and place in which a story is set. At one point in the story, Mama refers to how she and her church raised the money to "send [Dee] to Augusta to school." It seems as though, then, that the story is set in Georgia, as...

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it has a city called Augusta in which a major university exists. As far as time, Mama refers to being in second grade in 1927. If Mama was seven or eight years old in 1927, and she's got two grown children by the start of the story, it stands to reason that the story takes place sometime in the late 1960s or 70s. In addition, the passage of the Civil Rights Act took place in 1964, an event to which Dee seems to refer when she says, "It's really a new day for us."

Tone refers to the author's feelings about the subject of the text, and mood refers to the emotional atmosphere created for the reader. Walker seems to sympathize with Mama and Maggie much more than she does with Dee, and so her tone toward them is sympathetic while her tone toward Dee seems more judgmental. She presents Dee as misguided at best, cruel at worst. Although Dee claims to be embracing her African heritage, something many African Americans began to do in the 1960s—adopting a name that isn't associated with whites and demanding family heirlooms that represent her heritage—she does not understand the ways in which her mother and sister honor that heritage, and she puts them down. She seems to have misunderstood the goals of the Civil Rights movement, and she fails to respect her own family because she sees them as inferior, uneducated, and "backward." The mood, then, is uneasy and even threatening. Maggie is nervous about seeing her sister, and those feelings pervade the text until Mama's eventual realization about Maggie's value in her life.

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Walker's tone varies slightly in the story.  Overall, the story demonstrates a didactic (teaching) tone.  The author wants to teach her readers that heirlooms and tradition should be personal and meaningful, not decorations (as Dee sees the quilts). The story also possesses an empathetic tone and mood.  Readers cannot help but feel for Maggie who has had very little in her life or even for Dee who is struggling to establish who she is but who is confused by all the signals that society is sending her.

In regards to the setting, look at excerpts from the story where Walker describes the swept yard and Mama's house--the setting correlates best with the didactic tone because Walker uses it to show that even though people might not have material possessions, they can still take pride in those possessions and be tidy and clean.

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