Literary works dealing with serious subjects such as woman rights, discrimination and oppression can be completely different in genre and style, but nevertheless sharing a mutual theme, each approaching it from a different perspective. In Everyday Use by Alice Walker and A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell, such theme is women position in society. In Everyday Use this theme is approached from the perspective of African American women, while A Jury of Her Peers from the perspective of differences between men and women. In that regard, the mutual theme, this paper is attempting to unveil, is the representation of women’s oppression through the stories’ main characters, Mama and Mrs. Wright.
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Mama in Everyday Use is an African American woman and a mother of two daughters. Her narration through the short story is reflected through the different world outlook of her two daughters Maggie and Dee. She is somewhat fully accepting her life as it is, where her position can be represented through her answer to self-asked question on the reason her school was closed down; “in 1927 colored asked fewer questions than they do now”. In that regard, Mama was still asking few questions decades later.
Mrs. Wright, on the other hand, is a character who is physically absent through the short story’s course. Nevertheless, the fate of Mrs. Wright, whose maiden name was Minnie Foster, is taking the central position in the story, being told through the reminiscence of her female friends, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Gale. While Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Gale’s husbands search for motives for Mrs. Wright’s husband murder, women realize the misery in which Mrs. was living, through small evidences scattered throughout the house, and to which their husbands are blind from their male position.
In Everyday Use, Mama lives with her position without any visible regrets or signs of dissatisfaction. In that sense, she is similar to Mrs. Wright who is different only in the fact that her perception is acknowledged through the reasoning of her “peers”. They both were oppressed, where Mama said to herself, “Who can even imagine me looking a strange white man in the eye? It seems to me I have talked to them always with one foot raised in flight, with my head fumed in whichever way is farthest from them.”
The difference between the two characters can be outlined through the way they both made attempts to oppose their position and break the circle in which they were captured for so long. Mama’s attempt was shown in the climax of the story, in which she preferred to give the quilts to Maggie. The preference for her choice to give the quilts to Maggie can be seen as the only action which she took consciously and with her own will, and thus establishing her true identity through the newly discovered relation with her daughter Maggie. Mrs. Wright’s outbreak, on the other hand, was more effective, as it is assumed in the story that she killed her husband, who was oppressing her for twenty years.
Personally, I think the differences in the stories’ main characters’ reaction to the oppression is that in A Jury of Her Peers, the oppressor was identified in Mr. Wright, whereas in Everyday Use the oppression was abstract through a combination of factors. Nevertheless, both characters are similar through their desire to make a change, and it does not matter how large is the scale of the change.
Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs. Literature : An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2009.
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