Acceptance and Denial in Alice Walker's Everyday Use

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Mama, the protagonist in Alice Walker's short story, Everyday Use is a woman with a solid foundation and tough roots. The qualities that society would find admirable within Mama are the same qualities that Dee, Mama's oldest daughter, would spurn, thinking them only the qualities of a down home, uneducated, country bumpkin. Dee, the story's main antagonist, is proof that children are not necessarily products of their environment.

From the beginning of the story we see that Mama, who describes herself as "a large, big-boned woman with rough, man working hands" (68) has no illusions about the type of woman she is; however, she still has enough depth to dream about being reunited with her daughter Dee on television in a fantasy complete with a limousine, orchids, and Johnny Carson. Mama, who is capable of killing a bull calf with a sledge hammer (69), knows that she is uneducated, dark, and heavy. Mama also knows that the fantasy has more to do with making Dee happy than fulfilling any of her own wishes. Mama's main character strength is her patience as it relates to her children and specifically Dee. From the time that Dee steps out of the car and informs Mama and her younger sister Maggie that they should no longer call her Dee, Mama displays this patience. Mama must feel disappointment in the fact that Wangero, as she wishes to be called, considers Dee dead (71). To Mama, who named Dee after her sister, Wangero's statement that she couldn't bear to be named after the people that oppressed her (71) must have been like saying it was Wangero's family that had actually been the oppressors. Mama's patience and willingness to bend to the wishes of her daughter showed great inner strength and understanding.

Mama continues to...

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...the quilts are priceless (73). Mama, on the other hand, almost gives in until Maggie, who knows her place in this world like Mama knows hers, says that Wangero can have the quilts. Maggie's act of resignation triggers Mama into doing something she had never done before. She hugs Maggie and stands up to Wangero.

The irony of Wangero's statement that Mama does not understand her heritage (74) ties the emotions of the conflict together. With that statement, we perceive that Mama and Maggie not only understand their heritage, they are living examples of it. Wangero not only does not understand her heritage, she has spent so much of her life denying it that she will never find it.

Work Cited

Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Fourth Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Prentice Hall, 1995: 68-74.

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