Irony In Alice Walker's Everyday Use

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Alice Walker’s Everyday Use (rpt. in Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, Perrine’s Literature Sound and Structure 11th ed [Boston: Wadsworth, 2012] 166-173) is a short story told by the mother of two daughters, Mama. The story tells the tale of the return of Mama’s oldest daughter, Dee, and the problems that Dee’s return causes for Mama and her youngest daughter, Maggie. This short story includes humor and irony, displays detailed characterization, and portrays a very effective point of view. These three literary elements contribute to this story by giving insight into the past and the true personalities of the characters, and the way the characters have changed over time.
Humor and irony play very important roles in Everyday Use. The humor found
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The irony contributes to the story by adding insight into the way Dee behaved in the past compared to how she behaves now. For a character who hates her home so much, it is very ironic that she comes back and wants to take family heirlooms, such as the butter churn and quilts, home with her to cherish. “ ‘This churn top is what I need… And I want the dasher, too’ ” (171). “ ‘Mama, Wangero said sweet as a bird. Can I have these quilts?’... ‘These are all pieces of dresses Grandma used to wear. She did all this stitching by hand. Imagine!’... ‘Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!’ She said. ‘She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.’ … ‘But, they're priceless!’ ” (172). This is situational irony because the reader expects Dee not to want anything from her home because of how much she despised her home and heritage, but she ends up wanting the butter churn and hand-made quilts. She even says that Maggie would not appreciate the quilts and would put them to “everyday use,” as if Dee adores them. It is also ironic that Dee brings Hakim-a-barber home with her. In the story, Mama refers to the time when Dee wrote her a letter saying that wherever Maggie and Mama chose to live, she would come visit them, but she would not bring her friends. “She wrote me once that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends” (168). Dee was ashamed of her home and family,…show more content…
This point of view contributes to this story is multiple ways. Mama narrating this story helps to give the reader insight into the past of the characters. Mama was there for everything that happened in the lives of her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. She knows their personalities and how they feel about their heritage and lives. As a result of Mama’s knowledge of these important details, Mama is able to add a contrast between the past and the present. Mama is able to tell the reader where Maggie’s burn scars came from, and what she thinks caused the fire. She tells the reader about the house burning, and how differently the two girls reacted to the fire. “How long ago was it that the house burned? Ten, twelve years? Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them. And Dee. I see her standing off under the sweet gum tree she used to dig gum out of; a look of concentration on her face as she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot brick chimney. Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes? I’d wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much” (167). This flashback that Mama shares with the reader provides insight to the personalities of her daughters. Mama tells the reader how Dee used to feel
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