In Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" Mama is the narrator. She speaks of her family of two daughters Maggie and Dee. Through the eyes of two daughters, Dee and Maggie, who have chosen to live their lives in very different manners, the reader can choose which character to identify most with by judging what is really important in one’s life. Throughout the story three themes consistently show. These themes show that the family is separated by shame, knowledge, and pride.
Maggie is shamed from her scares of being burnt by their previous house. As her mother describes, "She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground" (87). Besides her scars, she just doesn't possess the same outgoing personality and full figure that Dee has. All these aspects make her feel inferior to Dee. She doesn't feel comfortable when Hakim-a-barber tries to shake her hand. On the other hand Dee is ashamed of her family and heritage. One of the main things that Dee does to distance herself from her family, and tarnish part of her family’s tradition is the changing of her name Dee Johnson, to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because she feels that it comes from “the people that oppressed me” (Walker 88). This shows that Dee is ashamed of her family heritage and she is trying to block out the past and the family in which she was raised. This act comes to Mama as a shock because of the thought that was placed into the choosing of that name. Mama explains to Dee that she can probably trace the passing of that name to before the Civil War. Dee also sent a letter to Mama once and made the comment that she would never bring her friends when she came to visit. In this, Dee is worried about what her friends would think because she is ashamed of the shack in which Mama and Maggie lives. Mama is also ashamed of their home saying "I have deliberately turned my back on the house." (Walker 87) She describes herself in a condescending way of being fat and manly. She also mentions how uneducated she is because of school closure in the second grade. Mamma seems to be ashamed of her self as a whole (Walker 86-87).
Another theme that shows up is knowledge. "Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by." (Walker 87) This is mama commenting on how dumb Maggie is. M...
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...y about herself, Maggie, Dee, the house, and…everything.
For this family to be closer, happier, or a better function they need to compensate on some issues. Throughout the story, the family conflict that arises focuses directly on the quilts, and who they will be passed along to. However, the quilts are more than old family material items beacuse they symbolize who they are. A quilt is joined together by patches with different patterns. This quilt represents how members of a family are different ,but nonetheless, joined together. Not everyone has the same skills, personality, or looks. They need to have the knowledge and realize this. They need to have more pride in themselves, each other, and their heritage. There is no need for them to be ashamed of their lives or their past. This family will never come together in whole if they don't quit letting their pride, knowledge, and shame get in the way.
Farrell, Susan. “Studies in a Short Fiction.” Vol. 35 Issue2,p179,March.2004.
Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." Literature An Introduction to Reading and Writing 5th ed. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998. 86 92.
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