Everyday Use

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Everyday Use
Everyday Use (Alice Walker short story).jpg
Author Alice Walker
Genre Short story
Publication date
1973 (as part of In Love and Trouble)
ISBN ISBN 978-0-8135-2075-9
OCLC 29028043

"Everyday Use" is a widely studied and frequently anthologized short story by Alice Walker. It was first published in 1973 as part of Walker's short story collection, In Love and Trouble.

The story is told in first person by the "Mama", an African American woman living in the Deep South with one of her two daughters. The story humorously illustrates the differences between Mrs. Johnson and her shy younger daughter Maggie, who both still adhere to traditional black culture in the rural South, and her educated, successful daughter Dee, or "Wangero" as she prefers to be called, who scorns her immediate roots in favor of a pretentious "native African" identity.

A film version was released in 2003.

Plot[edit]

The story centers around one day when the older sister, Dee, visits after time away and a conflict arises between her and her mother over some heirloom family possessions. The struggle reflects the characters' contrasting ideas about their heritage and identity. Throughout the story Dee goes back and forth on being and rejecting her heritage. For example, when she decides at dinner that she wants the butter churn, she shows that she respects her heritage because she knows that her uncle carved it from a tree they used to have. However, she wants it for the wrong reason, saying that she will use it only for decoration. Another example is when she wants the quilts that Mama has. She states that she wants them because of the generations of clothing and effort put into making the quilt, showing her appreciation for her heritage. The fact that she changes her name, though, from Dee to Wangero disrespects her heritage because "Dee" is a family name that can be traced back many generations. The story is narrated by the mother.

Characters[edit]

  • Maggie - Though described by her mother as dull and unattractive, Maggie is a very innocent and humble character. She leads a simple and traditional life with her mother in the South while her elder sister, Dee, is away in school.
  • Mama - Acts as narrator of the story. She is also known as Mrs. Johnson. She is a middle-aged or older African-American woman living with her younger daughter, Maggie. Although poor, she is strong and independent as shown by how she interacts with her children, and takes great pride in her way of life. Her appearance is described as someone who is overweight, and someone who has a body that is more like a man's than a woman's. She has strong hands that are worn from a lifetime of work.
  • Dee/Wangero - Eldest daughter of "Mama" and sister to Maggie. She is very "educated, worldly, and deeply determined"; she doesn't let anything get in the way of getting what she wants.
  • Hakim-a-barber - Dee/Wangero's boyfriend, possibly husband, she brings to dinner at her Mamas house. He is referred to as "Asalamalakim", which is a Muslim greeting, by Mama because he is Muslim. He is short and stocky and has long hair that reaches his waist and a long, bushy beard.

Symbol[edit]

One symbol found in this short story is the quilt. The quilt itself is a very meaningful item in the sense that it has history on it; it includes clothes that Dee's great grandma used to wear and pieces of uniforms that Dee's great grandpa wore during the Civil War. However, it also symbolizes value in Negro-American experience. Because Walker includes the fact of the Civil War gives a sense of history to the African American history. The quilt additionally adds to the idea of creative activities women came up with to pass down history from generation to generation.

Discussion[edit]

The humble Maggie, with her shuffling gait and habit of cringing in corners, is a caricature of a different type. However, although she lacks most of Dee's advantages, she is able to carry on family traditions and appreciate the true meaning of the things Grandma Dee left behind.

Although Dee is portrayed in a negative light in the story, Walker based both sisters on aspects of her own character. Like Maggie, she suffered an injury in childhood that left her partially disfigured and very self-conscious. Like Dee, she rose from poverty, got an education, explored her African tribal ancestry, and participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Walker also resembles the level-headed mother, who turns a slight incident into a story, and who is able to show Maggie's hidden worth while casting a sardonic gaze on the glamorous Dee.

Alice Walker grew up in the rural South, and "Everyday Use" pays homage to her sharecropper ancestors

References[edit]

  • Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Anna Charters. Compact 8th ed. Boston: Bedfor/St. Martin's, 2011. 852-858. Print.
  • Whitsitt, Sam. "In Spite of It All: A Reading of Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use.'" African American Review. 34.3 (2000): 443. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.
  • "Everyday Use." sparknotes.com. sparknotes, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.

External links[edit]