Misfortunes of Dreams in Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This famous excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech seems to echo the very sentiment of the narrator, whom we find out later is “Mama” and Mrs. Johnson, in the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. She alludes to her eldest daughter Dee and says “sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought together on a TV program of this sort. Out of a dark and soft-seated limousine I am ushered into a bright room filled with many people. There I meet a smiling, gray, sporty man like Johnny Carson who shakes my hand and tells me what a fine girl I have” (60). In fact, Dee has, through money raised by the church and her mother, gone on to fulfill her mother’s dreams of obtaining an education and attaining a certain status in life. It appears Mama’s embedded her dreams in the future; albeit in a better life for her daughter Dee. Her dreams call for a change from life as is; to the life of her dreams. Unfortunately, the ascending cloak of animosity and resentment within Mama, accompanied by the obligatory change as a result of Mama’s efforts, has brought misfortune and a reversal of the dynamics between Mama and her daughter Dee.

From the beginning of the plot Mama allows us a front row seat to the workings of her conscious thoughts by reflecting on the way she views herself as well as her two daughters, Maggie and Dee. From these descriptions, we get a glimpse of the schizophrenic nature that resides within Mama. She describes Maggie as this half shell of a person “standing hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed...

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...er had done before: hugged Maggie to [her]…” (67-68). This acceptance of Maggie simultaneously coupled with her rejection of Dee manifests Mama’s antagonist demeanor. Dee realizing Mama’s disposition tells her “[she] just [doesn’t] understand” (68). Mama confronts her demanding to know what she does not understand, and Dee responds “Your heritage” (68); heritage is something we pay homage to but do not live. Mama’s continued lifestyle juxtaposed to the lifestyle of her dreams, which Dee has embraced, has spurned her animosity and resentment. From this, we can see the irony in Mama: wanting a better life for her child [Dee] and then resenting her for having it.

Throughout the story the narrator, Mama, shows us her frame of mind in the course of her detailing the events and interactions with Dee; the derogatory and skewed descriptions, cry out for justice.

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