"Everyday Use," by Alice Walker, was first published in 1973. The story opens as Maggie and her mother, a black farm woman, await a visit from Maggie's older sister, Dee, and a man who may be her husband--her mother is not sure whether they are actually married. Dee, who was always scornful of her family's way of life, has gone to college and now seems almost as distant as a film star. Maggie, who is not bright and who bears severe burn scars from a house fire many years before, is even more intimidated by her glamorous sibling. The central theme of the story concerns the way in which an individual--Dee--understands her present life in relation to the traditions of her people and culture, while the thematic richness of "Everyday Use" is made possible by the flexible, perceptive voice of the first-person narrator--Dee's mother.
The story focus on the way Dee sees the differences between her life and the lives of her mother and sister. Dee tells her mother and Maggie that they do not understand their "heritage," because they plan to put "priceless" heirloom quilts to "everyday use." The story makes clear that Dee is equally confused about the nature of her inheritance both from her immediate family and from the larger black tradition.
The matter of Dee's name provides a good example of this confusion. Evidently, Dee has chosen her new name ("Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo") to express solidarity with her African ancestors and to reject the oppression implied by the taking on of American names by black slaves. To her mother, the name "Dee" is symbolic of family unity, and is significant because it belongs to a particular beloved individual.
... middle of paper ...
... hung on the wall--summarizes the black woman's dilemma
about how to face the future. Can her life be seen as continuous with that of her ancestors? For Maggie, the answer is yes. Not only will she use the quilts, but also she will go on making more--she has learned the skill from Grandma Dee. While for Dee, the answer is no. She would frame the quilts and hang them on the wall, distancing them from her present life and aspirations; to put them to everyday use would be to admit her status as a member of her old-fashioned family.
Taken as a whole, while the story clearly endorses the commonsense perspective of Dee's mother over Dee's affectations, it does not disdain Dee's struggle to move beyond the limited world of her youth. Clearly, however, she has not yet arrived at a stage of self-understanding. Her mother and sister are ahead of her in that respect.
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