Everyday Use Summary
An Examination of “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
“Everyday Use” is a story by Alice Walker that focuses on the lives of three African American women in the late 1960s. The group consists of a mother and two daughters. One of the daughters (Maggie) lives with the mother in the rural south while the older one (Dee) lives away from home, presumably in the city. The story describes a visit by Dee to the country home of her mother and sister. The mother expresses anxiety about the upcoming visit (as does Maggie) and her fears become realized when Dee returns with a radical view of her culture and upbringing. The climax of this story happens when Dee’s mother, who has always bent to Dee’s will, refuses to give her two quilts that have been in the family for a long time. This occurs after Dee displays a lack of respect for the hardworking, down to earth culture that she had abandoned. We can observe themes in this story such as disconnection from heritage and that even permissive parents eventually need to change their ways.
The setting of this story helps to establish the meaningfulness of the interactions. The home of Maggie and her mother can be found in a southern rural town during the 1960s. People in their society are set in their ways and tend not to read many books. It also seems that whites have been the dominant race for some time, but at the time of the story, there has been an influx of African American “beef cattle people” to the area. The community is very traditional, and Dee’s views have always seemed to clash with this aspect, which is especially true considering the description of her visit found in this story.
There are three main characters in this tale. The mother, who is never formally named, is an uneducated, big-boned workingwoman who commonly completes the jobs usually associated with men. She wants the best for her children, rarely says no (especially to Dee), and even paid for Dee to go to school away from home. Maggie is the younger daughter. She is unattractive, not very intelligent, and quite timid. Maggie doesn’t expect much from life and walks with a noticeable limp. Dee, the oldest daughter, is a headstrong opposite of her younger kin. She values and displays intelligence openly, sometimes to the point of being insulting or condescending. Dee has a way of forcing her ideas on other people, even when these ideas are new, uncomfortable, and unsought. By the time of her visit, Dee (and she briefly mentioned friend) have changed their names to traditional African ones in an attempt to appear to be connected with their roots, though it comes off as being insincere. She also views the quilts and other homemade items in a light that makes them seem like folk art rather than meaningful artifacts that represent her family’s history.
The quilts are an obvious representation of the family’s ethnicity and are never truly appreciated by Dee (who first views them as embarrassing, then as craftwork). Another notable symbol of her heritage is the house that Dee hated, which burnt, almost as a way to signify a release from her family ways. Also, the cow that hooked the mother may have represented the mother herself since it was generous when treated properly, just like her.
In conclusion, the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is an interesting representation of African American heritage and the generational divides that are found within families. There was also much irony included, such as Dee’s changing views about the quilts, her inability to understand why they would be put through everyday use, and the exaggerated beauty of the home when described by the mother as opposed to Dee.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. 5 Apr. 2008.