Symbolism in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use

Symbolism in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use

Symbolism in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use

Symbolism is defined as the use of symbols to represent qualities or ideas. It is a literal device that adds flavor to works of literature. In Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, symbolism has been widely and effectively used for different purposes that include making the work of literature sweeter and invoking the reader to think. The immediate purpose of this article is to analyse the use of symbolism in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use.

Alice Walker takes discussing what seems like of harmony within African-American culture and conflicts as well as struggles that are experienced therein. She takes the encounter of one rural family, the Johnsons. In this family, Dee seems to be the only one who has had a formal education and she is accompanied by a male friend, who return to visit Dee’s mother and younger sister Maggie. The author, therefore, employs different ways of expressing these interpretations, symbolism being among the major techniques. The techniques she uses are a clear expression that heritage and culture are part of our daily life.

Walker’s creates characters who take different symbolic actions as well as physical attributes. They are related in one way or another related to the culture of the family.  Dee’s male companion, does not take pork since he is Muslim. By doing this, he refuses to participate in the traditional African-American culture. Meanwhile, Mrs. Johnson has been described as having “man-working hands” that could “kill a hog as mercilessly as a man” (Walker, 72). This is a clear indication that she leads a rough life. It as well shows how much she is exposed to work.

Maggie’s physical appearance is symbolic as well. Her skin possesses scars that are a clear indication of the ruthless journey of life she leads. Mrs. Johnson has also promised Maggie some quilts when she marries. The quilts are a symbolic representation of culture and heritage. The quilts were made by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee (Walker, 76). Both Big Dee and Grandma Dee are role in the history of the Johnson’s Family.  They, unlike the present Dee, played a vital role in teaching their offspring about culture and traditions. Since the quilts are made from fragments scraps of dresses, uniforms, and shirts, they are a good representation of history. The quilt held pieces of cloth from Dee’s great grandma and some from Dee’s great grandpa’s uniforms which he wore during the civil war.  The fragments are a good representation of the people who forged the family’s culture and therefore its values and heritage.

Mama promised to give Maggie the quilts once she got married. This symbolically meant that Mama wanted her daughter to uphold the family’s culture and traditions even when she was with her in-laws since the quits represented Mama’s traditions and cultural heritage. However, it was at the same time a symbol of value in Negro-American culture (Eder, 44). The quilt can, therefore, be considered as a symbol of family heritage to the Johnsons. It is a representation of a long line of relatives and their distinctive roles in the family.

The quilt has, additionally, been used to bring out the idea of the different creativities invented by women which kept changing from one generation to another.  As many would agree with me, weaving and sewing was an activity that was (and still is) highly appreciated since it represents women history.

Heritage, in the short story, is symbolized in different ways. Mrs. Johnson and Dee are concerned about who should inherit the quilts. Heritage has also been expressed through objects and places such as their front yard. The fragments, however, are not taken as just some creative pieces of art, but they are considered as a symbol of the people’s daily activities. This, in essence, seems to be the central point of the short story. They are used for self-identification, but that also this process, to succeed, to be real, must be part of people’s use every day. Another symbol used in the short story is the yard. It is used as an object that gives the family a sense of belonging. It is as valuable to the family just like the living room. Walker describes the yard as a blissful escape, a place where Mama’s regrets can be sidestepped (Walker, 73). To Mrs. Johnson and Maggie, a yard is a place that provides safety, a place they can feel free to exert a little control to their environment.

The short story is so replete with symbolism. Dee’s clothes are said to be so loud and hurt the eyes. This is when she arrives at home according to the author. Walker describes them as having a mixture of bright colors like yellow and orange. She says that “they are enough to reflect back the sun’s rays (Walker, 74). She, therefore, ends up concluding that there is a sensation of heat burning the face as the “heat waves it throws out.” (Walker, 72). It is from this description that we see Dee being associated with fire. Fire is the same thing that burnt and scarred Maggie, her sister. Then as the story proceeds, we see Maggie finally making ‘a real smile.’ This is when she watches Dee’s car disappear in a cloud of dust. This is the point she finally feels free to appreciate the sacred role she is entrusted. This is the role of the quilter. Her mother had earlier on known her to be a scarred daughter, but she is finally liberated. Indeed, she feels like a goddess of the present (Walker, 77). The description we get about Maggie shows her as a symbolic. Her physical description is a symbolic representation of her personality.  She has been marked by her surroundings (Walker, 80).

Her putting on some sunglasses to hide everything above the tip of her chin and nose when Dee leaves is also symbolic (Skipp, 45). The sunglasses show her willingness to conceal an identity she had stuck to for a long time. They also serve as a concealer that darkens her worldview. It prevents her from seeing the true representation of her experiences regarding family and heritage. Just after she puts them on, she doesn’t forget to tell Maggie to try and make herself too. She says that the experience is truly a new day for them. But she cautions Maggie that from the way she and Mama still lived, it would be hard to know it.

Work Cited

Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 71-95.

Eder, Martin. Alice Walker’s Short Story “everyday Use”. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH, 2014. Internet resource.

Skipp, Francis E. American Literature. New York: Barron’s, 2012. Print.