|Originally published 1973|
Genre Short story
Adaptations Everyday Use
|Publication date 1973 (as part of In Love and Trouble)|
Similar Alice Walker books, Short Stories
everyday use alice walker
"Everyday Use" is a widely studied and frequently anthologized short story by Alice Walker. It was first published in 1973 as part of Walker's short story collection, In Love and Trouble.
The story is told in first person by the "Mama", an African American woman living in the Deep South with one of her two daughters. The story humorously illustrates the differences between Mrs. Johnson and her shy younger daughter Maggie, who both still adhere to traditional black culture in the rural South, and her educated, successful daughter Dee, or "Wangero" as she prefers to be called, who scorns her immediate roots in favor of a pretentious "native African" identity.
A film version was released in 2005.
Although Dee has discarded her rural roots for an education, she returns to visit Mama (her mother) and surprises her by wearing traditional African clothing, changing her name, and having a Muslim husband. Dee is attempting to reclaim her heritage from Africa, but in the process, she is also rejecting her immediate African American background. The fact that she changes her name, from Dee to Wangero (an African name) disrespects her cultural heritage because "Dee" is a family name that can be traced back many generations. Dee asks to have a churn that her Uncle Bundy carved from a tree they used to have. However, she wants it for the wrong reason, saying that she will use it only for decoration. Also, she wants the quilts that Mama has, stating that she wants them because of the generations of clothing and effort put into making them. However, Mama resists giving the quilts to Dee and instead chooses to bestow them on her younger daughter, Maggie, who Mama knows will put the quilts to "everyday use" instead of simply displaying them as trophies (as Dee plans to do). Mama and Maggie focus on enjoying their life together with experiences and memories and celebrate their African American heritage.
One of the primary themes of "Everyday Use" is the idea of a person's relationship to his or her culture. In the story, Dee's mother remained close to immediate family traditions, while Dee herself chose to search more deeply into her African roots. Because of her different mindset, she does not appreciate the quilts in the same manner as Mama and Maggie. Materialism also manifests as a theme because Dee wants the quilts because of their aesthetic beauty, while Maggie appreciates them for their usefulness and symbolism of the plight of African Americans. In the same vein, Dee shows embarrassment over her family's immediate traditions, while Maggie and Mama respect the traditions.
One symbol found in this short story is the quilt. The quilt itself is a very meaningful item in the sense that it has history on it; it includes clothes that Dee's great grandma used to wear and pieces of uniforms that Dee's great grandpa wore during the Civil War. However, it also symbolizes value in Negro-American experience. Because Walker includes the fact of the Civil War gives a sense of history to the African American history. The quilt additionally adds to the idea of creative activities women came up with to pass down history from generation to generation.