What Is Up?
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In every family there seems to be a child that is bestowed with all of the positive aspects of her parents. Unfortunately, for every perfect child there is, it seems that there is one child that is less talented and less beautiful. In the short story, “Everyday Use”, these two character descriptions fit perfectly in relation to the characters of Dee and Maggie. Dee is the gifted and beautiful child, whereas Maggie seems to have been left behind by the gene pool and luck. In her short story, “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker utilizes language, the tragedy of the fire burning down Maggies familys house, and her portrayal of Dee to pain an extremely sympathetic portrait of Maggie.
Walkers use of language when describing Maggie creates a picture of a physically scarred and unintelligent woman. Maggies physical scarring is pointed out to the reader early in the story to lay a foundation for sympathy. Walker accomplishes this when she states that Maggie has, “burn scars down her arms and legs” (383). The matter of fact choice of vocabulary by Walker creates an image of a deformed person that would not be aesthetically pleasing by any stretch of the word. Walker fortifies her effort to create a sympathetic Maggie with her vocabulary when Mama states, “Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggies arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes” (384). The words “arms sticking” and “hair smoking” generates a grisly image in the readers mind of a grotesquely injured little girl that is quite worthy of sympathy (Walker 384). It is not only the physical scars that were left by the fire that create sympathy about Maggies physical appearance. Dee is described as being, “lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure” (384). This description paints a picture of an attractive young woman with pretty hair and a desirable body. However, when contrasted with the description we receive of Maggie, the description of Dee creates sympathy with the reader because it seems unfair that Dee would be given the gift of beauty and Maggie was not. The picture is even bleaker when you factor in that Dee is Maggies older sister and Maggie probably grew up realizing how beautiful Dee was, and hoping to one day be just as beautiful. Maggies physical scars created by the fire and the description of Dee as beautiful leave the reader feeling a great amount of compassion for Maggie.
The sympathy allotted to Maggie by the reader is not based solely on her physical scarring, her lack of intelligence also. These feelings are created by Walkers use of language when Mama again states, “Sometimes Maggie reads to me. She stumbles along good-naturedly by cant see well. She knows she is not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by” (384-85). There are several terms in this quotation that help construct sympathetic feelings. First, it is pointed out that she cannot see well; second, the admission by Mama that Maggie knows that she is not intelligent; third, the statement that good looks, money, and quickness passed her by. When these three facts are combined with the physical scarring, it fashions a portrait of Maggie as a woman that is physically deformed, has a difficulty with her vision, is unattractive, and not intelligent in the least. Walkers usage of language to create images and emotions in the readers mind cements the feelings of sympathy for Maggie.
It is not only what Maggie did not gain through the gene pool, but also the tragedy of her house burning down and the emotional scars that were inflicted by it that generate sympathy for her from the reader. Mama tells the story of how the first house that the family lived in burned down and explains how Maggie was injured in the fire while Dee seemed like she could be almost happy about the house burning down. This tragedy for the family seems to have the largest effect on Maggie. Mama explains that Maggie walks like a lame animal that has been run over by a car, but not killed by it; Mama also states, “she has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since that fire burned our other house to