Born to sharecropper parents, Alice Walker bridged the gap between poverty and literacy with the aid of the myriad write-ups she composed. Get a feel of post-war America and the passing of the Civil Rights, with this ‘Everyday Use’ summary and analysis.
‘Everyday Use’, published in 1973, shows how legacy is passed onto the ones who live with it, and not to those who simply read about it. The quilts in the story is testimony to this fact.
Alice Walker, the recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple, has also penned down several other works of excellence. Everyday Use is one of such tales from the collection, In Love and Trouble, which is a compilation of 13 short stories. Walker mainly reflected the plight and agony suffered by African-American women through her writing skills. In fact, she is famous for coining the term womanist, which she had adopted as part of her identity. It is crucial to be aware of the backdrop when this story was penned. America had undergone noticeable changes during the 1960s and ’70s, with slavery being abolished, and the period of Reconstruction dawned over American society. The change was further strengthened with the Afro-Americans gaining the Civil Rights, and the respect of earning citizenship from the clutches of slavery that had crippled them for so long.
But, the flip side was the inability of some of the Afro-Americans to come to terms with this change in their conditions. Owing to the multiple years of sufferings and acceptance of subjugation, they were in a state of mind where there was turmoil between choosing and exercising the rights, or to continue with the life they had been acquainted with. It is not enough to simply bestow a set of rights to a subjugated class. It also requires the capacity and the understanding to make use of the same. For this, education and a broad outlook are quintessential. Trouble intensifies when these two extreme behaviors are in the same family. Through this composition, Walker has done justice to this confusion.
Mama, the narrator of the story, is a mother (Mama) of two daughters who are very different from each other. Mama is a sharecropper, and has worked tediously all her life to make ends meet and provide a better life to her daughters, whom she loves earnestly. Her character is a balanced one, taking the call when it was demanded.
Well, to address her as Dee, or Wangero, is a paradox altogether. Dee is the elder daughter of Mama, who is self-sufficient in herself and has a different outlook towards life. After stern efforts on the part of Mama, Dee was able to venture out and acquire a higher education, which was a rarity in itself. In the process, Dee developed a new philosophy of life, owing to the education she received. She has a perspective of life which is totally unfamiliar with the one borne by her mother. She emerges as a new Afro-American, who believes that she has freed herself completely from the oppressive shackles of slavery. But in the process she has distanced herself from her roots, which she fails to understand. In her superfluous belief about her strong bonds with the past, she even rechristens herself as Wangero.
She is the flip-side of her elder sibling Dee. Maggie was timid, and appeared as a meek girl who had suffered severe burns during childhood. She is not as educated as Dee, and perhaps would settle down in marriage with a suitor in some time. She is adept in household chores, and knows the nuances of the activities that were practiced by her late aunt and grandmother. Maggie suffers from a strange inferiority complex, perhaps because she had suffered in a fire which left her scarred in the arms. She was also always apprehensive in the presence of Dee, and remained docile and submissive, abiding with all that is told to her by her elder sister.
He is the boyfriend of Dee, AKA Wangero. He accompanied her to her native place. He is a Muslim, and in an attempt to be like a traditional African, he has long tresses, which he assumes to have lent him the African legacy.
Dee was dead; in her place was born Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Dee was educated and was able enough to trace her roots and exercise her newly obtained civil rights. But was her education shallow? This is the point to ponder about. Does a change in a mere name free oneself of the long, traumatic past of slavery. Dee didn’t stop here. She had decked up in a traditional African dress to make herself one of those Africans who are rooted to the past.
Dee was an outgoing person. She had studied and had been able to carve herself a place in the new-age society. She denounced her slavery roots, and by virtue of her education she was very well a part of the new world. So far, so good. Trouble is seen when she looks down upon her mother and sister because of their inability to embrace the new life.
We are often prey to dilemma, where we need to take a stand and tread on a given path. Solutions are not always easy, especially when they are right. This story highlighted this feeling suffered by a mother of two very different daughters.