""Everyday Use"" was published early in Alice Walker's writing career and it appeared in her 1973 collection of "In love and trouble, stories of black women". Upon its publication, the work was reviewed with a lot of enthusiasm and today ""Everyday Use"" stands out as one of the best of Walker's stories (White, 2005). In ""Everyday Use"" Walker lets a woman with very little education tell that immensely affirms the value of her cultural heritage. This way Walker articulates the importance of quilt in her works of fiction. This aspect is also depicted in several other pieces of her work. In "Everyday Use", Walker captures the realities of everyday life in a simple and yet interesting manner.
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The general set up of this work illuminates Walker's life-long attachment to the rural black womanhood. This is evidenced when Mrs. Johnson grabs her ancestors' quilts from her daughter who wants to hang them on a wall and passes them to Maggie. This motif of quilting has become central to Walker's creative works partly because it gives special insight about the strengths of connecting with one's roots and one's past life, which is essential for creating self-awareness (Pratibha, 1993).
Summary and synopsis
The narration of "Everyday Use" is by a rural black woman, this being a deliberate attempt by the author to give voice to traditional marginalized segments of the population (White, 2005). Surprisingly, everyday life draws several important parallels to the author's own life. Born shortly before the end of the Second World War in Georgia, Walker was brought up in an environment that closely resembles that in everyday life.
Her parents were very poor and they lived in rundown shacks when racial segregation was legally enforced. The author describes this era as America's own period of apartheid. Like Maggie Johnson, Walker was disfigured earlier in life. A stray gunshot left one of her eyes blind and as a consequence, she became shy and recoiled into the world of writing and reading. This is how Walker came to capture the realms of literary writing (White, 2005).
And like Dee Johnson, Walker worked hard and excelled in many endeavors and this helped secure her a scholarship to Spellman College. This was in 1961 and it marked a turning point in Walker's life as it for the first time set her away from her poverty stricken home of Georgia. At around this time the political environment was not good for the African-Americans and soon Walker found herself deeply involved in the efforts to free the Blackman from the bondage of racial segregation. This she achieved through her early writings which shamelessly captured the everyday traumas that black people underwent in the pursuit of life (Pratibha,1993).
Development of the plot
The modern classic piece of writing "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is about a woman and her two daughters locking horns over their ancestry and identity. The humble mother narrates the entire story to one of the daughters, Dee but the other daughter Maggie arrives from college and differs sharply with them over the ownership of the heirloom quilts in their home (Pratibha, 1993).
As the story begins, a rough woman with man-like appearances waits for her daughter, Dee to return home. Dee is a much learned woman who lives in the city. The woman is accompanied by her younger daughter Maggie whose regard for her sister is a mixture of ewe and envy. As they stand waiting the mother reveals the details of their history to her daughter and specifically the relationship between the two daughters. Maggie seems perplexed on learning some secrets about their family life.
For instance Maggie is surprised to learn that when she was young a fire destroyed their family's first house and badly damaged Maggie's body. There are still visible scars on Maggie's body. Her sister fared well. It is like she then had a charmed life and it seems that whenever the world said no to Maggie, it never did that to Dee. Just then the other daughter arrives and the discussion continues. Down the road, disagreements pop up in respect of certain aspects of the family's ancestry (Pratibha, 1993).
Characters and characterization
Walker employs a lot of characters in "Everyday Use". The characters play different roles in the development of the plot of the story. Some characters appear early in plot development while others appear later. A striking personality in "Everyday Use" characters is Grandma Dee who in spite of having died a long time ago represents the family's cherished presence that livens the family's connection to their past life (White, 2005).
"Everyday Use" contrasts between the beliefs of Dee and those of her family. This is clearly emphasized in the different values that the characters place on some old quilts and other objects that have been in their home as long as they can remember. This then brings the theme of heritage. Heritage is the main theme in "Everyday Use" and concerns the family's connection to their roots (Pratibha, 993).
By changing her name, Dee believes that she is affirming her heritage of African. Not only does she change her name but also her appearance and manner even though family has lived in the United States throughout her life time. Maggie and Mrs. Johnson get confused and intimidated by Dee's new image. Their attachment to the family heritage lies on the memories of their mother and grandmother whom they prefer to remember not as members of a particular race but as individuals (White, 2005).
Walker employs several stylistic devices in "Everyday Use" to examine and explore the themes of her work. This way she gives voice to the uneducated and the poor who cannot raise high enough to address the challenges facing them. The author uses first person point of view and this way the reader learns what the narrator thinks about the future of her two children. This technique reveals the very experience of the often oppressed members of the society (Pratibha, 1993).