“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
“Everyday Use”, a short story written by Alice Walker, is told in the perspective of Mama. Mama is described as “a big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands”. The story begins with Mama waiting on her oldest daughter Dee to arrive home. It is learned that Mama and the church raised enough money to send Dee to school in Augusta. Mama waits with Dee’s younger sister Maggie. Due to burns she received in a house fire, Maggie is extremely shy and insecure. She is also very envious of Dee, as she is everything that Maggie is not. While waiting, Mama fantasizes about reuniting with Dee on a television program where the child who has “made it” is confronted by their parents. Mama dreams that on this show, Dee would pin orchids to her dress and thank her for helping her find success.
When Dee finally arrives, she is joined by her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Hakim-a-barber attempts to greet Mama and Maggie, but Maggie recoils from him. Meanwhile, Dee gets her camera from the car and begins to take pictures of Mama and Maggie in front of the house. When she is finished, she puts the camera away and kisses Mama on the forehead. When Mama calls Dee by her name, she proceeds to inform her that she has changed her name to “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”, as she no longer wanted to be named after the people who oppressed her.
They all go inside to eat. Hakim-a-barber announces that he does not eat collards and pork was unclean. Dee, however, eats everything that Mama has to offer. She is especially delighted at the fact that the family still uses the benches her father made for the table. Soon after, Dee asks Mama if she can have the family’s butter churn and dasher. She reveals that she will use the churn top as a centerpiece for her table, and the dasher to serve some other artistic purpose.
Next, Dee stumbles upon some old quilts made by her mother, aunt, and grandmother. Dee asks her mother for the quilts. Mama suggests that she takes any of the other quilts. However, Dee insists on the quilts hand stitched by her grandmother. Mama finally reveals that she promised those quilts to Maggie for when she got married. Dee is offended. She argues that Maggie can’t appreciate the quilts and won’t be able to preserve them. Mama in turn argues that she hopes Maggie does put them to everyday use, and that she can always make more since she knows how to quilt.
In an attempt to restore peace, Maggie offers Dee the quilts. However, when Mama looked at Maggie, she was struck with a feeling she got when she was in church. This feeling motivated her to snatch the quilts out of Dee’s arms and give them to Maggie, where she felt they belonged. She again tells Dee that she can have one of the other quilts. Dee decides to leave instead.
Upon leaving, Dee tells Mama that she does not understand her own heritage. She also tells Maggie that’s it is a new day for black people and that she should try to make something of her self. The story ends with Mama and Maggie watching Dee and Hakim-a-barber drive off, then sitting outside until the sun went down.
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