Everyday Use By Alice Walker Literature Reviews Example
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Alice Walker’s short story Everyday Use depicts a common theme as with most of her work which is the reflection of the life within the African-American culture. Like majority of works, Everyday Use embodies the harmony, struggles, conflicts and victories of the culture she is trying to represent. The story revolves around members of the rural Johnson family which took place when Dee (who is the only member of their family to receive formal education) and her male lover came to visit Dee’s mother and Maggie, her younger sister. The encounters amongst the characters in the story highlight different perspective in the impact of culture and heritage in the lives of the people.
Her two daughters, Maggie and Dee are polar opposite of each other. Maggie’s character is portrayed as someone shy and unattractive. Her physical scars may have affected her self-esteem and resulted to her being easily startled. However, despite her lack of confidence Mrs. Johnson thinks of her a sweet daughter and a reminder of herself. Maggie is at home with her heritage just like her mother. Maggie is often seen honoring her ancestors such as when she learned how to quilt in honor of her grandmother. As mentioned, Dee is the opposite of Maggie. She is physically gifted; she is also ambitious which is why she opted to receive education. Her education is the central theme surrounding her character. Her education also serves as a factor that separates her from her family and heritage.
Dee’s character showed that she is someone who is moving away from tradition and even the heritage of her own family. She changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, who of course stirred anger and confusion in her mother. She mentioned that she is in the quest to reconnect herself to her African roots and that is why she decided to change her name. However, her move appeared to be paradoxical, wherein she is attempting to recover her roots but as the same time denied to accept her immediate heritage. The heritage that she is denying is the same heritage that her family practices. Her name, Dee, as revealed in the story holds an importance t the family as it is the same name as her ancestors. “Mrs. Johnson thinks she could trace the name Dee in their family "back beyond the Civil War" (54).”
The interactions and physical features of Walker’s characters uphold a strong symbolism to their culture. One other character that played a vital role in the story is Dee’s male companion. He is portrayed as someone who refused to eat pork and collard greens which show his refusal to take part in the family’s African-American heritage. Both Maggie and Mrs. Johnson are also portrayed as characters that experienced a rough life as revealed by their physical features. The quilt that is symbolic in their family is promised to Maggie by her mother during the time of her wedding. Dee’s did not recognize the cultural significance of the quilt, “the visitor rightly recognizes the quilts as part of a fragile heritage, but she fails to see the extent to which she herself has traduced that heritage (p 4).” The quilt is passed on from generation and plays a significant role in connecting the family to their roots. There are many instances in the story that showed Dee’s growing indifference to her sister, mother and even to the church that helped her get her education.
Alice Walker chose to stir her readers towards the displeasing attitude of Dee. In the beginning, she may have been portrayed as someone who has high ambition and someone who will change her fate, but at same time she turned her back to her heritage, “n her problematic repudiation of oppressor culture, Wangero represents, among other things, the marginalized individual who fails to sec this dilemma as false. She seems willing to lose her soul to be free of the baleful influences that she thinks have shaped it (p.11).”What she does not understand is that the everyday use representation in the story such as the quilt shows the bond that links her to her tradition, “in "Everyday Use," then, Walker addresses herself to the problems of African Americans who risk deracination in their quest for personal authenticity (p.11).” Everyday use is the representation of the maintenance and cultivation of heritage which is essential to self-identification.
Cowart, David. "Heritage And Deracination In Walker's `Everyday Use.'." Studies In Short Fiction 33.2 (1996): 171. MasterFILE Elite. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 88-95.
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