Everyday Use


Alice Walker

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Everyday Use can help.

Eye contact / Vision / Gaze Symbol Analysis

Eye contact / Vision / Gaze Symbol Icon

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

The Everyday Use quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eye contact / Vision / Gaze. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harcourt edition of Everyday Use published in 2001.
Everyday Use Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee
Related Symbols: Eye contact / Vision / Gaze
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee, Maggie
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Everyday Use LitChart as a printable PDF.
Everyday Use PDF

Eye contact / Vision / Gaze Symbol Timeline in Everyday Use

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eye contact / Vision / Gaze appears in Everyday Use. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Everyday Use
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...proud of her as she is. Anyway, thinks Mama, she would be unable to make eye contact with a white, male host. Dee, on the other hand, could make eye contact with... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Dee and Hakim-a-Barber give each other looks over her mother and sister’s heads, communicating through eye contact . Ultimately, Mama agrees to call Dee “Wangero,” settling the issue. (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...of herself, since it’s “a new day for us.” She puts on sunglasses, obscuring her eyes. Maggie smiles at Dee, or perhaps at her sunglasses. Mama notes that it is a... (full context)