The idea of eye contact, vision, or gaze recurs throughout “Everyday Use,” representing the various ways that characters, particularly Dee, interact with or create hierarchies of power. For example, when Mama contrasts her inability to look white men in the eye with Dee’s tenacious ability to always return a gaze, eye contact represents Dee’s ability to combat and resist oppressive racial norms. Dee uses her gaze also to elevate herself above her family, creating a power dynamic between them. When Dee and Hakim-a-Barber visit, they signal to each other with their eye movements over the family’s heads, a conversation that excludes, and therefore disempowers, Dee’s mother and sister. While sight represents Dee’s resistance to some hierarchies of power, like in her ferocious returning gaze to white men, it also reinforces other ones, like between Dee and her poorer, less educated family.
Eye contact / Vision / Gaze Quotes in Everyday Use
Who ever knew a Johnson with a quick tongue? 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 turned in whichever way is farthest from them. Dee, though. She would always look anyone in the eye.
How long ago was it the house burned? Ten, twelve years? Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them. And Dee…Why don’t you dance around the ashes? I’d wanted to ask her. She had hated that house so much.