Alice Walker skillfully crafts the character of Dee Johnson in the short story "Everyday Use." From the first paragraph, Walker begins to weave the portrait of Dee, who at first seems shallow in many aspects. Dee becomes a more complex character, however, as the story unfolds. Blessed with both brains and good looks, Dee emerges as someone who is still struggling with her identity and heritage.
Dee's physical beauty can be defined as one of her biggest assets. The fact that Maggie sees Dee "with a mixture of envy and awe" (409) cues the reader to Dee's favorable appearance. The simplistic way in which Walker states that "Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure" (410) gives the reader the idea that Dee's beauty has made it easier for her to be accepted outside her family in society. We are left with the impression that Dee's appearance is above average. Walker plays on Dee's physical beauty to contrast the homeliness of Maggie and her mother. Walker goes so far as to describe her feet as "always neat-looking, as if God himself had shaped them with a certain style" (411). In describing Dee's feet, Walker is giving the impression of perfection from head to toe. Dee's outward beauty has "made her transition from poor farm girl to that of an educated, middle-class black woman possible" (Allen-Polley 11). Needless to say, Dee doesn't seem comfortable with her past and therefore has a difficult time accepting her future. It is as though she is not really connected with her family anymore. She simply needs them to fulfill their positions in her recreated past.
Dee's motivation in returning home seems to be not just seeing her family ...
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...ng part of one's life.
The character of Dee has many facets. She is blessed with good looks and a strong desire to succeed, but her blind and self-serving desire for success does hamper how she perceives her past and her heritage. By hiding "everything above the tip of her nose and her chin" (415), she deftly manages to disguise herself from anyone who might discover true ancestry. She refuses to accept her past as it really happened. She wants to be able to create the images to her liking. The past is something that cannot be recreated to suit our new ideas, however: It is a part of us that cannot be changed.
Allen-Polley, Kathryn. "Dee's Heritage." Ode to Friendship. Ed. Connie Bellamy. Virginia Wesleyan College, 1998.
Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
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