From the fashionable, expensive clothing that the character Dee in Alice Walker’s "Everyday Use" wears, the girl seems almost immediately to be a person of great value and importance. It may seem, too, at first glance, that Dee’s mother and sister, Maggie, in their tin-roof house and shabby clothing, are of little or no worth in "Everyday Use." The story ironically shows, under more careful thought, that the very outer characteristics which deem Dee the more valuable character are the ones which prove that the mother and Maggie have the more powerful inner worth.
In the beginning of the story, Dee is portrayed to be more physically valuable than her mother and Maggie. Dee’s outfit reeks of a money-based society, much different from that of her heritage. Dee wears "A dress down to the ground...There are yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun. Earrings, too, gold and hanging down to her shoulders" (Walker 1151). Dee’s mother even reflects on her oldest daughter’s full figure and nice hair(1150). The mother and Maggie, on the other hand, are given an air of simplicity and unattractiveness. The mother is described as a large, big-boned man-worker whose usual attire consists of overalls and flannel nightgowns. Maggie, referred to as a "lame animal," is thin and shabbily dressed(1150). From the vivid description of Dee and rather bland ones of the mother and Maggie, it may be readily assumed that Dee is of much higher extrinsic value than her family members.
Despite the outer attractiveness of Dee and unattractiveness of her mother and Maggie, the differences in the behavior of the groups indicate a turnaround in the presumed value judgments of the characters...
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... as well. The first glimpse of "Everyday Use" may suggest that Dee surpasses her mother and sister in value, but closer scrutiny of the work reveals that the mother and Maggie have just as much, if not more, merit than Dee.
Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 1149.
Baker, Houston A., Jr. and Pierce-Baker, Charlotte. Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 5. Gale Research Inc.: Detroit, MI,1990. 402.
Mickelson, Anne Z. Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 5. Gale Research Inc.: Detroit, MI, 1990. 406.
Matriz, Roger, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., Vol. 5, 6, 9, 19, 27. 1991.
Draper, James P., ed. Black Literature Criticism. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc., Vol. 3. 1992.
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