“Everyday Use” is a short story that talks about culture and heritage and how they create a sense of identity for those who see the true value. Everywhere we go, the setup of our background comes with us even when we wish to reject it. Through Mama, Dee, and Maggie, we get a glimpse of the saying ‘Home is best’. Dee initially rejects her family’s heritage which Maggie and Mama hold so tight but later comes to pick the items that would symbolize the same history. Heritage weaves its way in how we behave and how we live every day.
Points to Note
The interpretation explores symbolism in the characters and items used. Culture and meaning of heritage will also be discussed and interpret how each character identifies with it. Tee is also an element of colonialism and segregation and its effects. Parental responsibilities including their expectation on their children are also represented in the story.
Discussion of Everyday Use
Alice Walker sparks a certain intuition in her story ‘Everyday Use”. There are four characters mentioned in the story, Mama, Maggie, Dee (Wangero) and Asalamalakim. Mama is a mother who appreciates her roots and heritage to the core. She has two daughters, Dee and Maggie who have completely different personalities. Dee is the typical girl and now a young woman who does not let trends pass her by. Whether good or bad, Dee will adopt them until she finds it not interesting anymore. Maggie, on the other hand, is a very shy girl who sticks close to her mother for inspiration. Part of the shyness is due to her past horror where she got scorched by fire in the burning house. Walker describes the incident when Mama carried her daughter with burnt clothes and scorched from head to toe. This has really affected Maggie self-esteem considering how she keeps her head down all the time. Maggie appears to be mother’s pride and joy, she wishes the best for her daughter and admires how Maggie has remained resilient.
Dee is the bully who has the way with everything and everyone. She does not care about opinions or others’ feelings and only keeps friends who adore and do not criticize her. She dislikes her family’s background and wants nothing to do with it including their house, which burns down much to her satisfaction. Her mother’s house is full of traditional stuff and from the story; it indicates this is a rural setting. Surely, Mama loves Dee but is confused by her way of life and the people she associates with. This is seen in the beginning when she paints the picture of a mother waiting for her long lost daughter, “Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought together on a TV program of this sort” (Walker, 494). But when Dee arrives with a strange man, Mama already has a predisposed opinion of the man. She does not wait for him to introduce himself and immediately referred to him as Asalamalakim based on the greetings he offers.
Mama longs for the day she will have a real and deep relationship with Dee like the normal mothers out there. This is hinted at in her reference to appearing in a TV show, hugging her daughter closely and getting compliments for inspirational other. The reality is sad because she is just a country woman who has done all the manual jobs. She works all day in her overalls and does not worry about her appearance. Mama gives a glimpse of the segregation era when she talks about her lack of formal education which was cut short “I never had an education myself. After second grade the school was closed down” (Walker, 495). In those days, people of color had no say and her no equal rights compared to the current era. This makes her cling further to her heritage and she uses the available resources to make her life meaningful. She enjoys milking and doing farm work, knitting pieces of clothes and quilts. She attaches sentimental value to all the things inherited from her mothers, aunts and beyond. For example, she has clothes worn fifty years earlier, Paisley shirts and even a piece of uniform from the civil war.
Looking and touching these priceless pieces cures some nostalgia for her when Mama feels she misses the owners. That is why she feels offended when Dee dares to take the quilts away from Mama’s box. The symbolism of the touch of the Holy Spirit is used to create a dawning realization in Mama’s mind (Schütze, 2018). She remembers how Dee rejected everything to do with the family’s belonging and flat out refused to take the quilts before due to now stating “they have the value”(Webb, 25). For Mama, it would be very unfair to let Dee (Wangero) take away the quilts. Mama has kept these for Maggie who understands their value and meaning considering Dee has already grabbed the butter churn. Dee has a superficial notion of heritage. She does not even like the name she was given at birth and changes it to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, yet she wants to grab their masterpiece works full of sentimental value.
In that period, there was a movement which was lead by intelligent, and loud people who reject their heritage and Dee is used to symbolize them. She keeps a straight posture when addressing people, her clothes are brightly colored when Mama says “A dress so loud it hurts my eyes” (Walker, 496). She is not afraid to take risks and this has been that way in her early age. From Mama’s view, we interpret Dee as a self-centered person, who is ashamed of her family and she thinks she is intelligent with a social standing. This is seen where the author says “She wrote me once that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends” (Walker, 495). This is proven when Dee steps out of the car, with elegance, like she has paparazzi waiting for her exit. Dee shows how she feels entitled by taking the top of the churn without permission, then goes straight to the trunk to take the quilts and so forth.
Dee has renounced her American culture by dropping her name yet she wants the consumer culture of the Americans (Martin, 43). Initially, she had criticized her family for clinging to past items yet she does the same thing by taking those items. Just like the white people do, she wants to use the lid as a centerpiece and hang the quilt in her room which is a contrast of her ‘sophisticated’ personality. Walker wants us to understand the value of heritage and the sentiment in appreciating the culture. It is fine to adapt to changes in trends but that does not make the culture a thing of the past, it’s a way of life. Mama respects Maggie and rejects her decision to allow Dee to have the quilts. Mama uses sarcasm when she referred to Dee as Wangero to show disapproval her daughter’s decision. There is strength and a bond established when a person appreciates their culture before blindly and arrogantly following other people’s heritage.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 6th compact edition. Edgar Roberts and Robert Zweig. Eds Pearson, 2015. pp. 494-499
Martin, Jennifer. “The Quilt Threads Together Sisterhood, Empowerment and Nature in Alice Walker’s the Color Purple and ‘Everyday Use.’” Journal of Intercultural Disciplines, vol. 14, Winter 2014, pp. 27–44. EBSCOhost, Schütze, Nina.
The Quilt in the Short Story” Everyday Use” by Alice Walker as a Symbol for the Appreciation of the Heritage of African-American People. GRIN Verlag, 2018.
Webb, Sarah L. “Everyday Colorism: Reading in the Language Arts Classroom.” English Journal 108.4 (2019): 21-28.