The short story “Everyday Use,” narrates the story of a strained and conflicting relationship between a mother and her two daughters. Superficially, the short story tells how the mother disregards the superficial values of her older daughter who is successful and embraces the practical values of her younger and less fortunate daughter. Looked at deeply, the author analyzes how the concept of heritage applies for African Americans. The short story was written in the 60s and 70s when African Americans were struggling to find their identities in terms of culture. The term Negro was not being used after it had been replaced by black. African Americans were prepared to rediscover their origins and were ready to shun the American heritage which was filled with injustices and pain. In this essay, I will give my own ideal about the short story Everyday Use by Alice Walker.
Own Ideal about the Short Story
Alice Walker was born in 1944 to Minnie Tallulah and Willie Lee. She was the daughter of sharecropper just as most of her fictional characters are. When she was eight years old, she got an injury as a result of a BB gun that was accidentally fired by her brother. This caused partial blindness to her compelling her to abandon most of her childhood activities. As a result, she started writing poetry to allay the pain of losing her eyesight partially and kill the loneliness. She discovered that for her to write well, she required a quiet and peaceful environment but this was not possible given the living conditions she was staying in. she spend most of her time working from outside sitting under a tree (Luminarium 2001).
Everyday Use is a short story that was written towards the end of 1960s. It highlights the differences which existed in the American society in the 50s and 60s as a result of racial matters. The story is a depiction of the different perspectives from which culture and the heritage of an individual can be looked at (Gale 2010). The storyline of the short story is the conflict between two sisters, Dee and Maggie who have contrasting characters as the author portrays. Maggie is not as attractive as attractive as Dee. Mama says, "She knows she is not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by" (Walker 560). Maggie also lacks self confidence as the author says, "She will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs..." (Walker 559).
Literal techniques are highly used to depict Maggie as a girl with physical inferiority and slow mental development. Her physical inferiority is portrayed right from the start of the story when it is informed that Maggie had burn scars all over her legs and arms. When words such as hair smoking and arms sticking are used, this forms images in the mind of the reader to envisage a little girl who is suffering and appealing for sympathy. Her character represents the African Americans who could not stop thinking of their mental and physical injuries and never forget what culture and heritage mean.
Dee who is sister to Maggie is described as lighter than Maggie in possession of lighter hair and a more perfect figure. Contrary to Maggie, Dee is a representation of African Americans in the 1960s who saw themselves as a new crop of black people. They were close allies of movements such as Black Power Movement and attached great historical importance to their heritage (Kaplan 1996).
My perspective of the short story is that Maggie is described as a tragic character who goes through the pains of mental and physical retardation despite her lofty ideals. Dee on the other hand is described as a character who gains favor in everything despite the fact that she has a weak spirit. Maggie has remained chin on chest and eyes on ground since she was burned by the fire that consumed their house. She is equated with a frail animal that is run over by a car but remains alive instead of dying. The differences between Maggie and Dee are used to show how black contemporaries were divided into two parts as they held different views regarding heritage. Dee was used to being given precious things, something that turned her materialistic.
Dee evaluated her heritage in a materialistic nature contrary to the beliefs held by her ancestors. Socially, the beliefs were considered old fashioned as compared to those of new generation of African Americans who were in search of material wealth. Dee declared to Maggie that she could not accept to be named after people who oppressed them. However, she realizes later that her naming was after her aunt who had been named after her grandmother. This makes the evidence of culture and heritage clearer by the introduction of quilt story. The quilt is priceless for Dee and contemplates putting it on the wall. The proposal made by Dee to pass the quilts to a local university since they were old fashioned surprises many people. The dilemma that faces Dee in this short story can be viewed from an external social plane. In addition, there was a global dilemma for those who considered themselves of the new culture (Luminarium 2001).
Mama is a dynamic character in Alice Walkers Everyday Use as she makes an important realization as the story ends. She is finally able to understand her two daughters and says, "I am a large, big boned woman with rough, man working hands...I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. My fat keeps me hot in zero weather..." (Walker 559). Alice Walker is rhetoric of the black consciousness that was going on in 1960s. He wanted black people to acknowledge and recognize their American heritage. The stories of Africans in America are full of humiliation, injustice and a lot of suffering. African heritage cannot be fabricated like quilts collected from pieces that seem attractive to an individual. It is a real heritage that is made up of real people who should be respected and admired.