The Use of Poetic Language in Everyday Use by Alice Walker

By reading Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” the reader sees poetic language throughout the entire short story. With her use of poetic language, Walker confronts the dynamics of a Black American family, “Everyday Use” gives a portrayal of strong, single black woman who raised her daughters independently. Walker deepens the descriptions in this story by intertwining poetry and prose language, At the start of the piece, Walker uses a heavy image to introduce the setting of the story. “When the hard clay is swept clean as a floor and the fine sand around the edges lined with tiny, irregular grooves, anyone can come and sit and look up into the elm tree and wait for the breezes that never come inside the house” (Walker) By using such clear imagery, Walker sets atone for this piece and describes the life of the character, Maggie, and her mother.

One can identify that they both come from humble surroundings and that nothing disturbs their peace of mind other than the breeze that never enters the very simple house. By using the simile “clean as a floor” Walker suggests that this space is somewhat sacred to the mother and her daughter. With each sweep she cleans an extended part of her home, her safe place, With this element, Walker helps the reader connect such distinct imagery that one may often find in poetry. In both poetry and prose, a writer can use symbols to characterize. At the start of the piece, Walker uses a symbol to characterize the narrator and her daughters. The narrator and her youngest daughter, Maggie, share more qualities than the oldest daughter, Dee, who is like the “breezes that never come inside the house”7 always wanting to change and have the best of everything in life.

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Walker successfully intertwines the use of a symbol–“the breeze“ of which Dee represents in the narrator and Maggie’s life. In the beginning of the piece, Walker uses this passage to further the characterization of Maggie and Dee—through the eyes of their mother: Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed . . . eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her (Walker), With this telling characterization, Walker shows a representation of the dynamics between Maggie and her sister, Dee. Obviously, Dee has always gotten what she wanted from life because “no“ was never in her vocabulary. This personality difference left Maggie with feelings of inferiority and intimidation since she is “nervous” until her sister leaves.

One can also identify that Walker used metonymy in this specific passage, “the world” represents the narrator and Maggie. The use of metonymy is also an example of how Walker intertwines a poetic element in prose. Walker uses poetic description to deepen the characters throughout the entire story. An example is shown when the narrator describes herself as “in real life I am a large, big boned woman with rough, man working hands” (Walker), This specific passage is an example of where Walker accentuates poetic pauses in the narrator’s speech. With her use of commas, it let’s the reader pause and assists in the break up of the monotonous prose language. As a reader, the rhythm, of this line, helps the narrator express her mentality and how hard she has worked to be a good mother to her daughters. Another example of poetic language—describing a characteriis found in the line; “impressed with her they worshiped the well-turned phrase, the cute shape, the scalding humor that erupted like bubbles in lye” (Walker).

The author’s use of a metaphor and poetic pauses introduces more of Dee’s character. The metaphor used in “like bubbles in lye” further insinuates Dee’s behavior with people; the image of lye bubbles gives an almost explosive nature to her personality The reader is affirmed of this in the passage, “A dress down to the ground, in this hot weather. A dress so loud it hurts my eyes. There are yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of sun” (Walker). Walker chooses to personify Dee’s clothing choice by using the words like “loud“ and “throw.” These personifications deepens the impact of Dee’s presence in her mother and sister’s eyesi As the story progresses, Walker’s use of poetic pauses comes into the dialogue. “‘You must belong to those beef cattle peoples down the road,’ I said. They said ‘Asalamalakim’ when they met you, too, but they didn’t shake hands, Always too busy: feeding the cattle, fixing the fences, and putting up salt lick shelters, throwing down hay” (Walker)

This use of language portrays the naturalness and a dialect to how the narrator speaks—slow yet with purpose, The narrator’s relaxed language depicts that she is not confident in conversation since there is a definite education gap between her and Hakimabarber, When the story is coming to a close, Walker uses imagery to show the reaction of how the narrator, finally, reacts to Dee’s (Wangero’s) behavior towards Maggie and herself, In this passage: When I looked at her like that something 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] get happy and shout, I did something I never done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands and dumped them into Maggie’s lap (Walker).

This image deepened how important this move was for the mother. Not only did Walker paint this picture, she used the mechanics of a poem. With the use of commas, Walker portrayed a list of the steps the narrator took for Maggie’s justice, showing yet another example of the intertwining of poetry and prose. Walker closed with an image, “Maggie smiled; maybe at the sunglasses But a real smile, not scared.” Through this description, Walker deepened the sense of freedom Maggie felt from her sister’s judgmental gaze, The dynamics of this Black American family was definitely shown through their differing Character traits. “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, was indeed influenced by poetryi By using poetic elements with prose, Walker’s images and characterizations deepened the meaning of this writing for every reader.

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The Use of Poetic Language in Everyday Use by Alice Walker. (2023, May 11). Retrieved from