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Everyday Use by Alice Walker

Alice Walker is an outstanding American writer, publicist, activist and feminist. She became internationally famous mainly as the author of the novel The Color Purple. Alice Walker is an important representative of African American literature. Most critics relate her works to feminism, but the writer defines her ideological platform as ‘womanism’. She created a term in order to distinguish colored feminists. For Walker ‘white’ feminism is just a pale copy of womanism, while a womanist has no prejudice against other people, especially concerning their gender, race, and class. In her works, she raises urgent problems of women in society and African-American culture in general. The paper focuses on Alice Walker’s short story Everyday Use and its main characters and the contrast between their physical and spiritual worlds.

Everyday Use Summary

The plot of the story focuses on Johnson’s family of African Americans that consists of Mama, Mrs. Johnson, and her two daughters Maggie and Dee. The action takes place in a rural village somewhere in a Deep South and centers on the day, when Dee, together with her boyfriend Hakim-a-barber, visits her mother and sister. The conflict arises between Mama and her two daughters concerning the issues of identity and heredity.

The narrator of the story is Mama. She is a middle-aged woman and lives with her daughter Maggie in the village. Mama describes herself as: “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.” (Walker 315) Such a low self-evaluation does not scare the reader away but evokes his sympathy instead. A woman, who does not shun males work, even got used to it, and evidently, brought up her children without a husband, is definitely worth empathy and compassion: “I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man.” (Walker 316) The reader sees only the negative characteristics of Mrs. Johnson, but it helps him to make conclusions about her real. Under a pile of fat that can keep warm at zero weather and flannel gowns, there is a soul of kind-hearted, caring and loving mother. Being uneducated, she made a lot of efforts to send Dee to school. Mama is proud of her both daughters, although not always understands their actions and behavior, especially Dee. She loves her elder daughter and dreams of Dee embracing her with tears in her eyes. Such an innocent dream proves the idea of Mrs. Johnson is a simple and kind-hearted woman. On the other hand, it shows that she has deeper feeling for her elder daughter: “Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and fuller figure.” (Walker 316) This very quotation can be interpreted in such a way that Mama loves Dee more. But at the end of a story, everything changes.

Everyday Use Character Analysis

Maggie is a younger daughter in Johnson’s family. All her life she lives with her mother and helps her about the house. She is a very shy and hardworking girl. That is how Mama describes her: “chin on chest, eyes on the ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground.” (Walker 316) Maggie is ashamed of her appearance, as her arms and legs are covered with scars that the fire left. Her mother compares the way her daughter walks with a gait of a dog hit by a car. Her low self-esteem is inherited from her mother, as Maggie know that she is not bright and envies her elder sister Dee. Maggie understands that with her appearance she will not have a better husband than John Thomas, with mossy teeth and earnest face. But inside she is as beautiful, humble and simple as her mother. Maggie is devoted to the family and does not really care about what others think about her. That is how Mama raised her. Mrs. Johnson preferring Dee more than Maggie changes her opinion at the end of the story during the quarrel over quilts after a crucial phrase: “She can have them, Mama. I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts.” (Walker 321) She stops treating her daughter as a “lame animal”, but appreciates her for respecting and bearing memory of the grandma. Mrs. Johnson understands that Maggie will also retain and cultivate a memory of her. As they say: a little body often harbors a great soul.

Dee is Maggie’s elder sister.  She has nice hair, full figure, education, and her own style that she got at sixteen. Hesitation was not her trait of character. Dee always looks everyone in the eye when talks, thus she is confident and determined. She wants to have only nice things, beautiful dresses in loud colors. That can be interpreted as a desire to stand out from the crowd. She is Afro American, though it does not prevent her from achieving all those things her mother did not have. Dee could be an example for a lot of black girls, but she will not because her success only made her pompous and pretentious. She burned her family with unnecessary knowledge and pressed them with her serious reading. Her efforts to be trendy and fashionable just estranged her from her mother and sister. She visits them only to borrow some things she needs to decorate her house – a churn top, a dasher, and quilts. Dee wants these things to display in front of her friends as a heritage, saying that Maggie does not understand anything about it. Alice Walker uses irony here, as Dee herself rejected her own name – Dicie – that was inherited maternally from generation to generation. The contrast between Dee’s internal and external world proves that it is wrong to judge a person by the way he looks – appearances are deceitful.

To make a conclusion, Alice Walker in her short story Everyday Use describes three different male characters from different worlds and generations. The writer gives the reader an opportunity to analyze Dee’s, Maggie’s and Mama’s inner and outer beauty through their attitude towards their own roots, heritage and culture.

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