Everyday Use by Alice Walker

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Introduction of Everyday Use

“Everyday Use” was released in 1973 as part of Alice Walker’s collection of short tales, In Love and Trouble: Tales of Black Women. Since its first inception, the story has gained immense popularity and is frequently taught in high school and college literature programs.

The story follows a mother and her two daughters, Maggie and Dee, as they manage their connections with one another and with their ancestors. Dee, who has changed her name to Wangero, embraces her African ancestry, whilst Maggie is firmly set in their rural Southern traditions. The plot delves into topics of identity, heritage, and the complex connections between mothers and daughters.

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Summary of Everyday Use

The story begins when Mama and Maggie anticipate Dee’s arrival at their rural house, which represents the introduction of modernism and cultural diversity into their traditional way of life. The anticipation of her arrival sets the tone for the story’s study of identity and history.

Dee’s instant concentration on photographing Mama’s home and things demonstrates her tourist mentality, regarding Mama’s life and possessions as objects to be acquired and presented for her own consumption. The appearance of Dee’s partner, Hakim-a-barber, highlights the external factors that have shaped Dee’s identity and worldview.

Dee wants to take Mama’s old items, especially handmade quilts, and decorate her new home with them. This request demonstrates Mama and Dee’s opposing ideals and attitudes concerning heritage and material belongings.

Mama muses on her family’s history and the significance of the house they have lived in for generations, highlighting the value of history and tradition in her identity. Mama and Maggie recall a horrible episode in their childhood, a house fire that left Maggie scarred all over her body. This shared experience underlines Mama and Maggie’s friendship and their connection to their house’s physical and emotional history.

Dee’s critique of Mama and Maggie’s lifestyle and their perceived lack of connection to their African history illustrates the friction between modernity and tradition, as well as the complexities of individual identity and cultural inheritance.

Mama and Maggie cook a traditional lunch for Dee and Hakim-a-barber, highlighting the importance of family traditions and shared experiences.

Dee’s request to take Mama and her grandmother’s handmade quilts exemplifies the varied opinions on the value and relevance of familial heritage and cultural artifacts.

After Mama insists on giving the quilts to Maggie instead, Dee feels furious and leaves. It emphasizes the tension and divide generated by opposing identity and cultural inheritance views.

Mama and Maggie sit outside, contemplating their modest way of life and the memories and customs they adore, emphasizing the value of personal and cultural history in developing individual identity.

Major Themes in Everyday Use by Alice Walker

The Major themes of the story are as follows.

  1. Cultural Heritage: The story emphasizes the necessity of cultural heritage preservation and transmission to future generations. Mama treasures the practical goods passed down through her family and sees them as a physical link to her ancestors. On the other hand, Dee is more interested in the abstract concept of legacy and wishes to use it to express her identity. Mama’s description of their yard exemplifies this theme: “It is not just a yard. It’s like having an extra living space.”
  2. Tradition and Modernity: The story also examines the conflict between traditional and modern ways of living. Dee is an example of a sophisticated, educated, and upwardly mobile woman who has abandoned her family’s conventional way of life. Mama and Maggie, on the other hand, represent the older generation that did not have the same opportunity for education and progress. Dee’s urge to remove the quilts and other items that Mama sees as practical, everyday objects exemplifies this contradiction.
  3. Self-Definition: The story also addresses the significance of self-definition to cultural heritage. Dee wishes to define herself regarding her African ancestry, but Mama and Maggie see themselves as part of a larger cultural heritage that includes their forebears and community. This subject is highlighted in this narrative by Dee’s rejection of her given name and her selection of the African name “Wangero” instead.
  4. The Importance of Family: The story emphasizes the importance of family and the relationships that bind people together. Mama and Maggie have a special bond. Their bond is founded on shared experiences and a profound grasp of their family’s customs, whereas Dee’s relationship with them is more distant and strained. Mama’s hesitation to allow Dee to take the quilts demonstrates this theme: “I promised to give them quilts to Maggie for when she married John Thomas.” She was supposed to marry him yesterday.”

The Writing Style of Alice Walker in “Everyday Use”

Alice Walker used descriptive and crisp writing style in the story, with vivid imagery and sensory nuances. Alice’s use of dialect and regional terminology gives the story a realistic and down-to-earth flavour while stressing the characters’ ethnic and social backgrounds.

The author also used symbolism and metaphor to portray deeper thoughts and themes, such as the importance of heritage and the conflict between tradition and modernization. Thus, Walker’s writing style in the story is intriguing, thought-provoking, and evocative in general, reflecting the spirit of African American living in rural America.

FAQs about “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

1. Who is Alice Walker?

Alice Walker is an American author, poet, and activist. She is known for her works that often explore themes of race, gender, and social justice. She is best known for her novel “The Colour Purple” and her short story “Everyday Use.”

2. What is “Everyday Use” about?

The story revolves around a conflict between a mother and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. The story explores issues of cultural heritage, identity, and the value of everyday objects.

3. Who are the main characters in “Everyday Use”?

The main characters in the story are Mama (the narrator), Dee (Mama’s older daughter), and Maggie (Mama’s younger daughter).

4. What is the central conflict in the story?

The story’s core tension is Dee and Maggie’s opposing views on their cultural background and the quilts produced by their grandmother. Maggie and Mama perceive the quilts as practical, everyday standards, whereas Dee sees them as art.

5. How does the story deal with the subject of cultural heritage?

Dee’s effort to superficially embrace her African heritage is contrasted with Maggie and Mama’s more real devotion to their history through everyday rituals and artifacts in the narrative. It brings up the question of what it means to properly preserve and understand one’s cultural heritage.

6. What is the significance of Dee’s new name, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo?

Dee alters her name to reflect her African ancestry and to reject the name given to her by her family’s white oppressors. She believes that her new name will help her reconnect with her roots and make her more culturally authentic.

7. How does the story depict Dee’s relationship with her family?

Dee is depicted in the novel as being somewhat estranged from her family as a result of her pursuit of education and a different perception of her ethnic identity. Her family, especially Mama and Maggie, are estranged from her and her new views.

8. What is the significance of the quilts in the story?

The quilts are a representation of the family’s cultural background and history. They are a point of controversy between Dee, who wants to use them as decorative art, and Maggie and Mama, who want to use them to keep their family warm.

9. What does the title “Everyday Use” refer to?

The term emphasizes the significance of ordinary objects and actions in maintaining and passing along cultural legacy. It implies that history should be lived and experienced in daily life rather than presented as an art object.

10. How is the story’s major conflict resolved?

Mama gives the quilts to Maggie rather than Dee at the end of the story because she believes Maggie will utilize them in her daily life and thereby continue the family’s tradition in a meaningful way. This decision is a rejection of Dee’s shallow embracing of her background.

11. What is the “Everyday Use” message or lesson?

“Everyday Use” conveys the concept that authentic cultural legacy is built in a profound understanding and appreciation of one’s history and traditions as they are implemented in everyday life, rather than purchasing objects or changing one’s name.

12. Is Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” based on her personal experiences?

While the story is not autobiographical, it is inspired by Walker’s experiences and research into African-American identity and heritage.

13. How have critics and readers reacted to “Everyday Use”?

For its study of complicated subjects and well-drawn characters, “Everyday Use” has gained critical acclaim and is regularly studied in literature classrooms. Many readers like its provocative depiction of cultural identity and tradition.

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