Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use:” A Lesson in Characterization

Activate Learning

Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use is a good piece of fiction for teaching characterization and how characters change (dynamic characters). Activate learning by asking students to talk about what it would be like to return home for a visit after becoming a successful grown-up. Would they have changed? Students can act out the scenario. Do they think that people around them would have changed?

About the Story

In the story, Mama, the narrator, has two daughters, Dee and Maggie. As we begin reading the story, students list character traits of both sisters in a graphic organizer. In the beginning of the story Mama describes each daughter.

To help students understand the various settings in the opening of the story, you may want to list the settings as you go along. For example, the story begins in the family’s front yard; Mama has a dream in which she is on a television show with Dee. There is also a flashback in which Mama recalls a fire to the family’s former home. The transitions can get confusing, and students will better comprehend the story if you explain the various scenes.

Teach the Terms

Teach the terms flat character, round character, static character and dynamic character. Ask the students to categorize the characters from the short story and tell why they fit into the categories. To get students moving, you can list the terms on chart paper and place them around the room. The students have to write the characters’ names on the chart paper or tape the names (written on index cards) on the paper.


To summarize the lesson, ask the students who they think changed in the story and why. After reading the novel, ask students do decide whether or not they think that Mama made the right decision. You can also have them discuss why the title effectively represents the concept of keeping the past alive–through everyday use of customs and family culture.