Comparative Analysis Of “South Of The Slot” By Jack London And “Everyday Use” By Alice Walker
A common error in life is the belief that becoming wealthy or knowledgeable is the natural path of improving oneself that one must follow in pursuit of true happiness. However, many times, this path only exhausts the pursuer by leading to the turmoil between the upper and the lower classes. “South of the Slot” by Jack London and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker explore this turmoil in the characters and depict that the true happiness lies in the imminence of one’s soul. A comparison and contrast reveal that the protagonists of “South of the Slot” and “Everyday Use” were experiencing suffocation owing to the imposed standards of success but eventually acknowledging their real self, grants them serenity.
London’s “South of the Slot” and Walker’s “Everyday Use” depicts inner conflict of central characters owing to predetermined criteria of success imposed on them by the society. “South of the Slot” is the story of Freddie Drummond, who is seemingly living a successful life with respect in society and financial security for the future. He is a sociology professor at Berkeley and engaged to a rich woman from a noble family. However, in reality, he does not find this life satisfying, and this inner conflict entails his ventures to the South San Francisco by pretending a worker at the South of the slot. Big Bill Totts is the name of his alter ego, who not only become increasingly involved in the working life of the South but also starts a love relationship with a co-worker. In “Everyday Use”, Mama struggled to send Dee to school but the forcibly shared knowledge of her daughter triggers feelings of belittling rather than pride in Mama. When Dee reads to Mama and Maggie, Mama feels if they are “trapped and ignorant underneath her voice” while Dee is washing and burning them with the knowledge they “didn’t necessarily need to know. In comparison, Maggie never intimidates Mama since they both share the same outlook towards life. Hence, there is an inner conflict as on the one side Dee is the daughter who is successful from the worldly standards while Maggie has a disfigured body and no education. However, the peace of mind Mama feels with Maggie is non-existent in the company of Dee.
In both “South of the Slot” and “Everyday Use”, the central characters realize that they have to break the chain of imposed measures of success by acknowledging their real selves. In “South of the Slot”, Freddie keeps going on with the two strikingly different sides of his personality until the climax comes when he ought to end his dual life. In a decisive moment, “Freddie Drummond found that he had divided all the will and force of him with Bill Totts”. This moment of choosing one from his two worlds, he turns into Bill Totts forever since he realizes that materialistic life is unable to give him the real happiness he yearns for. In, “Everyday Use”, Mama endured the temper and dominating nature of Dee for long but a decisive moment comes that solved her inner conflict. Dee demands to have their family quilts, which were hand-stitched by their Grandma and which she refused to take in the past since at that time; they were “old-fashioned, out of style” for her. However, her newly acquired learning made her realize that those quilts are a priceless heritage that she must hang on a wall. Mama promised to give those quilts to Maggie who on Dee’s insistence agrees to sacrifice by saying that “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts”. At that moment, Mama felt as if she was in the church and the touch of a spirit has made her “happy and shout”. She hugged Maggie and amazed both of her daughters by giving the quilts to Maggie after snatching from Dee. In this decisive moment, she resolves her inner conflict by acknowledging that no matter what the worldly standards of success are but her true happiness is in her heritage.
The ending of both the stories give the vibes that the protagonists have made the right decisions, which ended their inner conflicts and grant them serenity. In “South of the Slot”, London cheerfully proclaims that “no more books on economics and the labor question” were written by Frederick A. Drummond and instead, “there arose a new labor leader, William Totts”. This line suggests that he disdained his previous life and his new life is the one he is born for. Likewise, in the concluding lines of “Everyday Use”, “Maggie smiled…a real smile, not scared” and later, both Mama and Maggie sat together outside their home “just enjoying” for quite a while before sleep. This line suggests that after passing on her heritage to Maggie, Mama is satisfied since she is confident that it is in the right hands. These endings, confirm that central characters of both the stories reclaim their lost serenity once they accept their real self by disdaining the pre-set success standards of the society. This also establishes that the belief that knowledge and wealth are only two standards of success and happiness is a common misconception. In reality, most of the time, knowledge and wealth entails class difference and increased distance between people. In contrast, true happiness is in realizing what matters the most to someone and then freeing the chains of worldly constraints in order to pursue it. London’s “South of the Slot” and Walker’s “Everyday Use” are the stories about the liberation of characters who were previously experiencing mental oppression owing to the imposed standards of success.
In both stories, the path of liberation is acknowledging the real self after realizing that what matters to them in real and what they are pretending to care because of worldly restraints. In the end, this acknowledgment enables both the protagonists to regain their lost serenity. In “South of the Slot”, Freddie chose to be Bill Totts for the rest of his life by rejecting financial security and position of his previous life. In “Everyday Use”, Mama prefers her simple and uneducated daughter over her confident and educated daughter for passing on her heritage since they share the same values.
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