Literature Studies: ‘Everyday Use’ by Alice Walker Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

Published in 1973, ‘Everyday Use’ is a repeatedly anthologized short story which is studied and appreciated on a wide scale. This short story is written by Alice Walker, which got published in her short story collection – ‘In Love and Trouble.’ The story revolves around three core characters and their perspective on family heritage. This essay will discuss in brief this short story and its plot, and the different perspectives behind it. Furthermore, a substitute title is suggested, which is in relevance to the theme of the short story.

‘Everyday Use’ is a story of a small African family which lived in the south of the country. The family includes a mother, Mrs. Johnson, and her two daughters, Maggie and Dee. The story is told by the mother. According to her, Maggie was the youngest, dull, and not attractive at all. She was a simple and traditional girl who has never left home. On the contrary, Dee, who was the eldest daughter, was educated, deep, and worldly wise. She lived far from her hometown in a college to pursue a good education.

The title suggested for this short story is given in relevance to its characters and their different perspectives. As every character of the story concludes with diverse endings, and therefore, it is very significant to study their perspectives one by one. Hence, the title ‘the difference in perception’ is the most suitable in my viewpoint.

To understand the story from a different perspective, it is very vital to understand the plot of ‘everyday use.’ This essay will discuss and analyze the plot of ‘Everyday Use’ in a detailed manner. It will make it easy to understand the characters and their perspectives. The story ‘Everyday Use’ tells us the importance of rich family inheritance and lessons which are learned through them.

To decide upon whom the valuables of the family history are transferred and how they become an issue of conflict between families are also considered in this report. In this story, the two hand-stitched quilts become the bone of conflict between the two sisters.

Those two quilts were hand stitched with numerous interesting clothes which were worn by the family members of the African tribe. Just like the quilt, every individual has a different perspective on how they see the world, and thus their life is a mixture of numerous events and circumstances which tells them how to respond to their surroundings – the world.

Just like this, ‘Everyday Use’ is a story of two contrary / conflicting worlds. Recounted by Mama (Mrs. Johnson), the story tells us about two diverse worlds which were personified in her two daughters.

How two girls from the same rich inherited family and same community can be so different in their personalities? However, no traits of wealthy family background were witnessed in the story or by their get-ups. The plot and the story simply explain that diversity was noticed in Dee’s nature, which gave rise to the conflict.

Dee was different in nature and attitude. Despite living in rural life, she never was a part of it and always considered herself as a part of the urban world. This was because of the education she was getting; her physical appearance compared to her sister, who got burnt, did not have the proper shape, and it was dull and unattractive. The entire story is told in a framework which portrays the returning of Dee home for the first time after her departure for college.

On her arrival, Maggie was not comfortable and got nervous. Since Dee was better in appearance and personality than Maggie, she had some sort of complex and could not face her sister as she does not like her. On the arrival of her sister- Dee, she was not coming in the courtyard to her mother to greet and welcome her sister. Her mother called her and gripped her hand tightly so that she may not run away upon meeting her sister. This scenario can be easily understood from a few lines from the story, which says:

‘How do I look, Mama?’ Maggie says, showing just enough of her thin body enveloped in a pink skirt and red blouse for me to know she’s there, almost hidden by the door.

When Dee returns from college, she arrives with her boyfriend. Her mother was not happy with it and her appearance. She was astonished when she got to know that she changed her name as well. She had come to collect the valuables from the house so that she can add them to her décor. Her mother was not happy with this fact and was surprised to see that she did not value the inheritance.

Moreover, she insisted on taking the two hand stitched antique quilts with her, which her mother and grandmother made. Her mother refused to give them to her as she had promised Maggie that they are hers. This became an issue of conflict between the two sisters and the mother. In anger, Maggie decided to give those quilts to her, but in the end, the mother took them back and asked Dee to take other quilts.

According to the perspective of Mama, Dee was going in the wrong direction, and she was on her own, having her style, which was very different from the family. This can be understood as Mama tells in the story that:

“At sixteen she [Dee] had a style of her own; and knew what style was.” She had proper features and physically attractive.”

According to Maggie, she was not like Dee and was physically unattractive as she got burnt when their house caught fire decade back. She had scars on her body, and that was the reason she was low on confidence. She never went out of the house. Maybe somewhere in her heart, she envied Dee, or maybe she was in a complex with her sister. She never liked her nor her actions or her presence as it made her uncomfortable.

According to Dee, the life her mother and sister were living was very old and not that what she wanted. This was why she had changed her name to ‘Wangero’ as her name was too old.

“Well,” I say. “Dee.”

“No, Mama,” she says. “Not ‘Dee,’ Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!”

“What happened to ‘Dee’?” I wanted to know.

“She’s dead,” Wangero said. “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.”

Anyone who puts himself/herself on Dee’s position may act in the same way she did. Someone who experiences life in an urban society may act that way, but should not forget their family inheritance and should respect them. After that evening, Dee went back to her college and mother, and Maggie kept sitting in the courtyard till late at night, and that is how this short story ends.

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