While the 20th century produced a significant amount of seminal short stories, Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” are two that have maintained particular relevance among contemporary students and scholars. In “Everyday Use,” Walker explores the return of her older daughter Dee (who renamed herself Wangero) as a means of navigating the complex questions surrounding tradition and heritage. In Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the author also explores questions related to tradition through the exploration of a narrative that articulates the annual stoning of a member of the community after this select member chooses a specific number from a black box. Although these stories differ along a number of grounds, they are share a number of comparative elements. With particular emphasis on the similarity of symbols between these stories, the present essay compares “Everyday Use” and “The Lottery”.
In “Everyday Use” and “The Lottery,” the symbol of the quilt and the black box are both emphasized for their history. Describing the quilt, Walker writes, “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago” (Walker 57). One recognizes a similar descriptive pattern in relation to the black box when Jackson writes, “The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained” (Jackson 1). In both instances, one recognizes that the author is emphasizing the historical nature of the objects and subsequently symbols. Through emphasizing the age, both stories are symbolically indicating that these are items that have a long history which may have even resulted in their original significance becoming distinguished from their present significance.
Not only are the quilt and the black box similar in the above-noted way, but they are also similar in terms of their being constituted through pieces of history. In “The Lottery”, Jackson writes, “There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it” (Jackson 1). In “Everyday Use” a similar description is used for the quilt when the mother states, “Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jattell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War” (Walker 57). Of course, in both of these quotes, the author is emphasizing the fact that the item is partially composed of at least one piece of another item. Regarding the symbolic significance of this facet of construction, one scholar noted regarding the quilt that, “Weaving, shaping, sculpting, or quilting in order to create a kaleidoscopic and momentary array is tantamount to providing an improvisational response to chaos” (Baker and Pierce-Baker 706). In this instance, the weaving together of historical items into the quilt functions as a means through which the characters in the story – as well as the woman who made the quilt – were able to develop a response to the chaos that they faced in their lives; in this respect, the chaos in part constituted the history of African American slavery. In “The Lottery,” the symbolic significance of construction of the black box from pieces of the prior black box is that it similarly adds chaos to the lives of the villagers. In this respect, although the villagers have a perverted and distorted tradition, by honoring it through the contiguity of the black box they are able to maintain a sense of reality in an otherwise chaotic world.
Another similar element of the stories is the symbolic nature of their climaxes. In the climax of “Everyday Use” Dee and Maggie’s mother grabs the quilts from Dee and returns them to Maggie. Conversely, in the climax of “the Lottery”, the villagers ceremoniously stone the person who had their number chosen from the black box. In both instances, the stories’ authors are making a point about the nature of one’s adherence to tradition and the impact that time has on this tradition. Regarding the climax of “Everyday Use”, Walker notes that the mother’s actions functioned as a means through which she could save, “the quilts from drifting away and circulating out there in an economy too far from home” (Whitsitt 456). In this respect, time and tradition are operating within the context of the quilts in relation to how Dee’s efforts would separate from their true historical purpose and instead bring them into an economy and contemporary experience that would result in their losing touch with their authentic reality and intention. In “The Lottery” the importance of time in relation to the story’s climax occurs in regards to the villagers. One scholar noted that, “one of the pivotal purposes of Jackson’s Lottery is to imply that the overwrought man is the inalienable slave of time” (Hooti and Mahmoudi. 1246). In this instance, the story’s climax in which the villagers stone the person who chose the individual who chose the number from the lottery constitutes a means through which the villagers in their actions have remained loyal to the tradition of stoning, and have effectively demonstrated their slave nature to this time-honored experience. Although in “Everyday Use” adherence to time and tradition are shown to be a positive, and in “The Lottery” they are shown to be a negative, in both instances time and tradition constitute a critical part of the story’s climax.
In conclusion, the present essay has compared Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Within this spectrum of investigation, the essay has shown that both stories are similar in regards to the primary symbols that they incorporate, as well as in regards to their climaxes. In “Everyday Use”, the story’s primary symbol is the quilt, while in “The Lottery” the story’s primary symbol is the black box. Ultimately, such symbols, as well as the story’s climaxes, provide substantial texture in stories and give them their lasting quality and literary significance.
- Baker, Houston A., and Charlotte Pierce-Baker. “Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker’s” Everyday Use”.” The Southern Review, vol. 21, no. 3, 1985, p. 706.
- Hooti, Noorbakhsh, and Yazdan Mahmoudi. “Black Veil of Ignorantism under the Unconscious Conscience of Human Soul in Shirley Jackson’s Lottery.” International Research Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences, vol. 5, no. 10, 2013, pp. 1245-1251.
- Jackson, Shirley. The lottery and other stories. Macmillan, 2005.
- Walker, Alice. Everyday use. Rutgers University Press, 1994.
- Whitsitt, Sam. “In Spite of It All: A Reading of Alice Walker’s” Everyday Use”.” African American Review, vol. 34, no. 3, 2000, pp. 443-459.