Everyday Use Analysis
Alice Walker, a prominent African American author of the twentieth century, belonged to Georgia and was the eighth child of a poor family. However, throughout her life, she struggled hard and remained true to her roots, thus successfully writing several stories as well as being successful in her own life. Walker has gone on to create several famous works like The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret Of Joy, which basically relate to and bring to fore the life of African-Americans. In one of her major literary works, “Everyday Use,” Walker portrays the lives of a mother and her daughters embodied in different characters and she focuses this story on the idea of true inheritance or heritage. Upon analyzing the story, it can be seen that Walker deftly uses the storyline, characters, literary devices such as irony, and also naming sequence for characters in order to portray the true value of the inheritance. Therefore, the author tries to communicate to the audience that they should respect their existing true heritage rather than trying to forge a new one.
The first and foremost device which an author utilizes in a story to communicate a particular theme is the storyline itself, and it is the same in the case of Everyday Use, where Walker emphasizes the theme of the importance of heritage through the basic plot. The daughters in the story are entirely different from each other, as Dee, the protagonist, has explored a world beyond the one her family belonged to. On the other hand, Maggie, the younger daughter, was confined to a limited circle around her mother and the vast opportunities of the world were unknown to her. The two old quilts, which were family inheritance and that carried the family legacy, are the reason for the conflict between the siblings. Dee figures out her own meaning of inheritance for her own selfish reasons and this makes way to the aversion between the mother and daughter. In the beginning, Mrs. Johnson, the mother always tried to make Dee happy, but later on, she realized the purity of Maggie’s heart and ended up the scene favoring Maggie.
Maggie was a sweet girl who grasped the real value of the inheritance. And Dee was trying to exploit the innocence of her sister. She just wanted to snatch the valuable things from their home. Therefore, although Dee claimed the first preference, Maggie was the right one to own the belongings of her ancestors. In this way, the author uses the very storyline of her work to emphasize the value of the inheritance.
The story written in the early ’70’ is a work of realistic social commentary and the behavioral difference between girls brought up in two different cultural backgrounds (Walker 314). Thus, the author uses this difference in the two characters also in order to persuade readers about the importance of one’s heritage. Dee and Maggie had different views about lives, Dee wanted everything nice and pretty and she has had everything she wanted in life. In Maggie’s stance, the world has never said the word no to Dee (Walker 315). She was a fully-fledged lady with beautiful hair and absolute form. Confidence was a part of her nature and she never hesitated to look in the eyes of people in contrast to her mother and sister. She was very conscious of her looks and wore heavy and swanky ornaments and garments. Her lifestyle was entirely different from that of Maggie’s. Maggie led a simple life hiding from everyone, even from her own sister. She was quite an introvert due to the burn scars on her body. Unlike Dee, she never had the courage to look up to the world. She always walked with a weighed-down head. The quilts, which were the cause of conflict in the story were not mere materials but meant much more to her, they reminded her of her grandmother. She wanted to holdfast those quilts in order to remember her grandma throughout her life. Therefore, this shows how the two characters were different from each other and how one on the surface pretended like she understood the meaning of heritage, but did not actually care about it or her family. Whereas the other, that is Maggie, clearly understood her heritage as well as valued and viewed it with the utmost respect.
Walker also shows the difference between the mother and Dee, in order to make the readers understand which of her characters is really concerned about the cultural heritage. Both the mother and Maggie had to sacrifice their happiness for Dee’s wellbeing. The mother was a tough and heavy woman with man-working hands (Walker 315). She was different from other African- American ladies of her time, and this was clear from the way she did things. The ease with which she kills and cleans the hog like a man works all day out in the sun, all these show how different she was. She has always proved to be good at men’s work, which is again characteristic of real African American women. The mother further had a fast and witty tongue, which was difficult for others to cope up with (Walker 315). She was ready to do anything for the happiness of her daughters. Though she was not much educated, she had understood the true value of heritage. She was a religious woman and wanted to engage herself in prayers and church songs once she had completed her responsibilities. Propriety was her prime concern, this can be the conclusion drawn from the story. However, on the other hand, Dee was not like her mother and was the complete opposite. She was always interested in the way she looked and only looked forward to materialistic joys, thus her character is in stark contrast with that of her mother. Thus, since her mother understood the real significance of heritage, it can be seen that Dee did not. Therefore, through her characters, Walker tries to make her readers understand what it is to actually value one’s heritage, thus she wants the readers to follow the example of the mother.
However, the most prominent device she uses to catch the reader’s attention as well as to assert her theme is irony. She presents irony through the character of Dee, as she thinks that she clearly understands the value of heritage and that she is doing the right thing, but in fact, she is not. She criticizes both the mother as well as her younger sister claiming that they do not understand the significance of heritage or culture. However, the irony lies in the fact that it is only them who truly have understood the concept of inheritance, and it is indeed them who have incorporated that concept into their lives as well as their thinking. On the other hand, Dee is a superficial person who just wants to think that she is right and is leading a good example, but in reality, she is just selfish and cares only for herself. Another thing to be noted is that Dee changes her name to an African name just to prove that she values her roots, but that is just an act of superficiality. Furthermore, the author ironically names the younger daughter a name which is not African, but still, she is the one that emerges a better person than Dee. Thus, through her naming sequence, the author tries to assert the point that it is not the names or looks that make a person heritage bound, but it is their way of thinking as well as their deeds.
Therefore, it becomes clear that the author has done an incredible job of bringing to fore not only a great story but also she has been successful in deftly making an impression of the real value of heritage in the minds of her readers. Walker makes use of her storyline, the representation of her characters, the contrasts presents between these characters, the naming sequence, as well as the most important device, irony, in order to emphasize her theme of valuing heritage and one’s origins. Furthermore, the author shows that changing one’s name or showing superficial concern for one’s roots is not the way to value one’s roots, ultimately, it is one’s character and way of thinking that defines who they are and how well they value their own origin.
Works Cited: Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Web. 1 April 2014.