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Everyday Use

Alice Walker

Voice, Diction, and Humor

Historical Context

Irony

Colorful language, specialized diction, and Mama’s unique phrases and observations give “Everyday Use” a sense of realism. Giving voice to a member of a group that had typically been silenced, Walker gives Mama the power to narrate and control and use language to convey her story and thoughts in her own way. Walker has Mama use the specialized language of butter churning and cheese making (Dee wants to take her mother’s “dasher” and the “churn top”), which adds realism to the story. These objects evoke the self-supporting life of a rural farm family and endless cycles of labor its members face.

The story focuses on the disappointment Mama feels in both her daughters and the tension that arises when Dee forces her to make a difficult choice about who gets the quilts, but the tragedy is undercut by Mama’s lively cadences and distinctive narrative style. Mama makes the language her own. For example, she refers to her husband carving benches when the family couldn’t “effort” (instead of “afford”) to buy chairs, and she describes the milk in the churn as “crabber” (soured). Walker uses humor as a way of lightening the story’s grim observations, such as in the subtle comedy provoked by Mama’s reaction to Dee’s and Hakim’s difficult-to-pronounce names. Mama eventually gives up on Hakim-a-barber’s name and secretly addresses him as what she thinks he sounds like: a barber.

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