Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” is set in Southern United States during the 1960’s to 1970’s, a time recognized for its importance in the Black Power Movement. After returning from college, Dee showcases a newfound love towards her Afro-centric roots, one she did not display while growing up in her mother’s home. Walker utilizes the multiple settings that the Johnson family each comes from to characterize the personality of Dee and her misunderstanding of the Black Power Movement. The sudden change in reactions and impressions that Dee expresses towards her old home before leaving for college and current home after returning highlight the lack of sincerity behind Dee’s sudden affinity towards African culture.
Before Dee left for college, the mother recounts how Dee “had hated the house that much” (1227). The mother worries that the similarities between the new house and its predecessor will anger Dee. The lack of actual windows, the pasture setting, and the tin roof of the house were not the material items that the mother remembers Dee used to obsess over. Rather, Mrs. Johnson feels Dee would want to “tear it down”, presumably due to the lack of sophistication the house emanates (1228). This gives a sense that Dee values items and materials showing class and similar superficial qualities over anything else. A house such as the one she lives in exudes a lack of sophistication and style in the world that Mrs. Johnson describes. Dee takes pride from the validation of other people’s perceptions of her. However, when Dee arrives, her reaction to the house completely startles her mother. She begins taking several pictures of Maggie, Mrs. Johnson, the cow, and most importantly the house. Mrs. Johnson recounts, “She never takes a shot without making sure the house is included” (1229). This behavior is peculiar, as the mother previously states that the new house is similar to the one that Dee had hated so much.
Walker is able to reveal how quickly Dee’s opinion has changed of the house, most likely due to her exposure to the Black Power Movement during her time at college. Many young African-Americans such as Dee started took pride in their Afro-centric roots at the time of the movement; however, this also shows Dee’s lack of sincerity due to her tendency to seek validation from her peers. This explains why Dee takes so many pictures of the house, the cow, and her family. It is not because of a genuine sense of pride for her African descent, but rather that Dee wants to impress her friends by revealing how African she is. Walker uses the Johnson’s house to paint Dee as a character more obsessed with the social connotations of being African at the time of the Black Power Movement, instead of genuinely being proud to be an African-American. Walker exhibits Dee’s hypocrisy in her treatment of the house and her mother’s household objects. For example, when asking for the butter churn top from her mother, Dee says, “I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table,” (1231). Rather than respect the use of the object and utilize it for its intended purpose, Dee sees more value in keeping the churn top as a showpiece that she would be able to show her friends. This treatment is also shown towards the house when Dee brings Hakim-a-barber to the house for the first time. The mother remembers that Dee specifically had told her “no matter where we ‘choose’ to live…she will never bring her friends” (1228). Presumably, Dee felt embarrassed to live in a house that she could not show off to her friends at the time, and therefore refrained from even bringing them to the house. However, after being exposed to the Black Power Movement while attending college, Dee is now elated to show Hakim-a-barber home, because of how African it is.
Rather than see the greater purpose of the cause she is trying to be a part of, Dee remains caught in materialistic and surface level aspects of the Black Power Movement that she is so enamored with. Dee’s treatment of the house and household objects shows a lack of understanding of why she is proud to be of African descent. The purpose of the Black Power Movement was to use pride of the heritage African-Americans came from as a way to fight against the persecution many faced during this time period. Walker uses the backdrop of the 1960’s and 1970’s Black Power Movement to expose Dee’s maltreatment of her family under the pretext of caring for their culture. For example, Dee becomes increasingly malicious towards her mother when her mother refuses to give Dee the quilts. Dee remarks that Maggie would not use the quilts properly and says, “You just will not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!” (1232). Dee sees herself more worthy of the quilts than Maggie, as Dee feels she understands the culture better than Maggie or Mrs. Johnson ever would. The oppressive behavior Dee combats by changing her name is synonymous to her maltreatment of her family.
Throughout “Everyday Use,” Dee represses her family for her own gain, mainly to prove the culture they share is more prevalent in her life rather than in theirs. This ideology contradicts the purpose of the Black Power Movement, highlighting a lack of maturity and understanding in Dee. Walker’s illustrative use of setting accentuates the differences Dee has with her family within the realm of their shared culture. Differences in the age and the influences that a character grows up with have a settling impact in molding their personality, as shown in Dee. Walker thus uses Dee and her societal influences to show the lack of comprehension a person has on any subject that is viewed from a limited perspective.
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Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” is set in Southern United States during the 1960’s to 1970’s, a time recognized for its importance in the Black Power Movement. After returning […]