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|1973 (as part of In Love and Trouble)|
"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 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 2005.
Although Dee has discarded her rural roots for an education, she returns to visit Mama (her mother) and surprises her by wearing traditional African clothing, changing her name, and having a Muslim husband. Dee is attempting to reclaim her heritage from Africa, but in the process, she is also rejecting her immediate African-American background. The fact that she changes her name, from Dee to Wangero (an African name) disrespects her cultural heritage because "Dee" is a family name that can be traced back many generations. Dee asks to have a churn that her Uncle Bundy carved from a tree they used to have. However, she wants it for the wrong reason, saying that she will use it only for decoration. Also, she wants the quilts that Mama has, stating that she wants them because of the generations of clothing and effort put into making them. However, Mama resists giving the quilts to Dee and instead chooses to bestow them on her younger daughter, Maggie, who Mama knows will put the quilts to "everyday use" instead of simply displaying them as trophies (as Dee plans to do). Mama and Maggie focus on enjoying their life together with experiences and memories and celebrate their African-American heritage.
- Dee – She is an educated African-American woman. When she was young, she rejected her traditional heritage, but she seeks later on to embrace it through changing her name from Dee to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo (an African name), marrying a Muslim man, and acquiring artifacts from Mama's house to put on display.
- Mama – She is described as a "large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands." She enjoys her lifestyle (especially milking cows).
- Maggie – Though described by her mother as dull and unattractive, Maggie is a very innocent and humble character. Due to the fact of her house burning down and scaring her from venturing out into the world, she becomes introverted. She leads a simple and traditional life with her mother in the South while her elder sister, Dee, is away at school.
- Dee's husband – He is referred to as "Asalamalakim", which is a Muslim greeting, by Mama because he is Muslim and eventually tells Mama to call him "Hakim-a-barber" due to Mama being unable to pronounce his actual name. He is short and stocky and has long hair that reaches his waist and a long, bushy beard.
One of the primary themes of "Everyday Use," is the idea of a person's relationship to her or his culture. In the story, Dee's mother remained close to immediate family traditions, while Dee herself chose to search more deeply into her African roots. Because of her different mindset, she does not appreciate the quilts in the same manner as Mama and Maggie. Materialism also manifests as a theme because Dee wants the quilts because of their aesthetic beauty and representation to her African heritage, while Maggie appreciates them for their usefulness and symbolism of the plight of African Americans. In the same vein, Dee shows embarrassment over her family's immediate traditions, while Maggie and Mama respect the traditions.
In the essay "'Everyday Use' and the Black Power Movement" by Barbara T. Christian, the story is compared to slavery and the black power movement. The essay relates certain aspects of the story to slavery to get a better understanding of "Everyday Use" and the background. The characters in the story focus a lot on African culture and heritage. Traditional African clothing is described throughout the story, and this is a symbol of the family's heritage. The mentioning of changing names relates back to slavery as well, the characters were trying to forget about their slave names, and think of more traditional names to remember their culture and "[affirm] their African roots."
On the other hand, in the essay "'Everyday Use' as a Portrait of the Artist" by Mary Helen Washington, the story is looked at from a more artistic and cultural perspective. The essay describes Dee as an artist who "returns home...in order to collect the material," which indicates that Dee comes home for a deeper understanding of her African culture. Although she changes her name from Dee to a more Native African name and wears African clothing, she lacks real knowledge of her culture. Because of this, Mama chooses Maggie over Dee to take the quilt, because Maggie shows more appreciation and knowledge of their culture and as she said in the story was involved in the making of those quilts whereas Dee had no part in.
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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. Walker including the fact of the Civil War gives a sense of history that enhances 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 as a part of their heritage.
Another symbol found in “Everyday Use” is the yard. The yard plays an important role in the story, and is described as “an extended living room”. Mama and Maggie have both tidied up the yard in preparation of Dee’s visit, and sit out in the yard for hours, even after Dee’s departure. The yard seems to be a place to think for Mama, where she can imagine herself being someone better than she actually is, but also remember just how much she has done for her family.
Another form of symbolism is when Dee changes her name to "Wangero" she says she wants to connect more to her heritage but doesn't realize her name Dee has more of a happier and meaningful meaning to it rather than a name from her ancestors back when they were slaves. Either way each name has an important meaning either way you look at it.
- Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." In Anna Charters (ed.), The Story and Its Writer. Compact 8th edn. Boston: Bedfor/St. Martin's, 2011. 852–858.
- "Everyday Use Themes - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved 2016-11-03.
- Christian, Barbara (1994). "everyday use" and the black power movement. Pearson. pp. 492–494. ISBN 0-13-458638-7.
- "SparkNotes: Everyday Use: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols". www.sparknotes.com. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
- Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Anna Charters. Compact 8th edn. 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. October 24, 2011.
- "Everyday Use." sparknotes.com. sparknotes, n.d. Web. October 24, 2011.