Alice Walker’s family-oriented short story “Everyday Use” shows how materialism can divide a family. By using symbolism and point of view, Walker characterizes Mama’s hidden strength and shows that tradition overcomes the need for materialism.
Through symbolism in “Everyday Use” Walker gives Mama more depth by exhibiting strength that she had not shown. The symbolism of the quilts helped disclose the deep, hidden feelings of Mama. When the quilts were being taken from the home a sudden realization had come over her: “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” (Walker 321). Mama’s will to protect not only Maggie, but also the history of the family made her strong. Another way that symbolism makes Mama stronger is when she tells Dee to “Take one or two of the others” (320). By stopping Dee, Mama was able to defend Maggie’s rights to the quilts that she helped make. By reuniting Maggie and the quilts, Mama shows that tradition is to be passed down not displayed.
By using point of view, Walker is able to show how Mama reacts to Dee trying to get more familiar with their heritage by taking whatever they had. Mama was able to show the strength that she had hidden within her that even surprised herself: “I did something that I had not done before: hugged Maggie to me” (321). Even though Mama did not speak to Maggie, the act of hugging her for the first time illuminated the hidden strength that Mama possesed. This motherly act exemplified the strength that Mama already had and gave depth to what they had been through as a family. Another way that Walker uses point of view is when Dee asks about the origin of her name: “‘You was named after aunt Dicie’… ‘And who was she named after?’… ‘Her mother,’ I said, and saw Wangero was getting tired. ‘That’s about as far back as I can trace it,’ I said. Though, in fact, I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches” (318). In this quote Mama is shown to have a deep connection with their family history and knows inside that what Dee is asking is not worth the time to explain to her. Dee’s blatant disrespect for their culture and simple living up to this point has shown that she does not care for Mama and Maggie let alone the history of the name given to her.
Lastly, Mama is a strong figure in the household, though she does not care to express it verbally. By using symbolism and point of view, Walker characterizes Mama’s hidden strength and shows that tradition overcomes the need for materialism. With silence Mama is able to portray herself as an unmoving brick wall that has maintained it’s history without having to flaunt that history with flashy possessions.