Everyday Use by Alison Walker Analysis Essay

  • Category: Books, Literature,
  • Words: 1060 Pages: 4
  • Published: 14 January 2022
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Alison Walker’s “Everyday Use” is a short story that takes place in the late 1960s to the early 1970s when African Americans were beginning to make societal changes. In this story, an African American mother and youngest daughter, Maggie, prepare for the visit of the oldest daughter, Dee. Dee had left home to attend college and find her true identity. Upon Dee’s arrival, she acts arrogantly when she questions her mother if she is able to take items from her home to have as decor such as the quilt hand sewn by their family’s women over generations. Mama explains that she had already promised the quilts to Maggie and Dee becomes upset, believing that Maggie will not hold the quilts to the same standards she would have. Both sisters view the quilts differently because of their beliefs on their heritage. 

Dee is a character who feels as if she does not fit in with her family’s lifestyle. This idea is evident when Mama recalls how their last home burnt down in flames and thinks to herself, “‘Why don’t you dance around the ashes? I’d wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much’” (2377). Although she has not lived the life she wanted, Dee wants more for herself like by expressing she wants to dress nicely or wants to  go off to college for an education. When Dee arrives at the house she takes a picture of her mother and Maggie in front of their home as a memory of what life she lived. She shows her insensitivity by visiting in a bright long dress with gold earrings and loud bracelets even in hot weather. In addition to that, she informs her family that she is no longer named Dee but is now Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo because Dee was the name given to her through oppression, presumably she was speaking about the slave masters that named her earlier ancestors, yet Mama claims, “You know as well as me you was named after your aunt Dicie” and explains that the name came from her grandmother and her great grandmother.. Dee giving herself an African name is her way of trying to get in touch with her heritage, yet she is rejecting any part of her earlier heritage of being poor and living traditionally just like when Mama explains, “I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing” (2377). She announces the work she must do is difficult, as were the lives of many African Americans during this period. During her visit, Dee asks Mama if she can have items around her home to use as decor in her own home when she says, “‘I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table...and I’ll think of something artistic to do with the dasher’” (2380). After rummaging through her mothers items, she finds the quilts that were sewn by her grandmother, aunt Dee, and Mama. Dee asks Mama for the quilts but is met with anger when Mama says they are for Maggie. Dee feels the quilts are priceless and Maggie would not be able to appreciate them as she would, although Mama states, “I didn’t want to bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old-fashioned, out of style” (2381), showing that Dee only finds interest in them because of her perspective as a new black woman. Back then the quilts had meant nothing to Dee, but now that she feels that she is above her traditional lifestyle she wants souvenirs. These items symbolize parts of her heritage, but Dee would rather admire them than to put them to use. 

Maggie is a timid character who lacks the confidence Dee has because she was badly burned by the fire that had destroyed their house when she was a child. She views Dee with “a mixture of awe and envy” (2376) partly because she was “lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure” (2377), but also because she believes that everything is handed to her. During Dee’s visit she is nervous and quiet yet when Dee is unsure where the dasher came from she explains, “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash” (2380), showing her close connection to her family. While Dee left home to explore her identity, Maggie had stayed home and became entwined in her heritage’s traditions learning how to quilt with Grandma Dee and Big Dee, her aunt. When Dee had asked Mama if she could take the hand sewn quilts Maggie became angered as Mama heard “something fall in the kitchen, and a minute later the kitchen door slammed” (2381). She values the quilts because her grandmother had been the one who taught her and they worked together on the quilts. Feeling defeated, Magging tells Mama, “She can have them, Mama… I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (2381), suggesting that Dee should have the quilt because she is able to value her heritage without physical items. It is Mama who takes the quilts out of Dee’s hands and gives them to Maggie, as she had promised. Mama prefers to give them to Maggie than to Dee because she knows Maggie will make use of them when she marries, just as the quilt was intended. In addition, it is likely that Maggie will continue her family tradition and pass on the quilt to her children.

Both sisters have an argument for their wanting of the quilt. Dee believes that she is no longer being oppressed and decides to collect items that represent the times she had to live traditionally. She tells her sister, “‘You ought to try to make something of yourself too, Maggie. It’s really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama live you’d never know it” (2382). It is one thing to feel above your heritage’s oppression and another to be ignorant. She tells Maggie and Mama to do something more with their lives, but she only received the opportunity that she had because her mother had raised the money with the church to send her to school. She did not come back to pull her family out of oppression, instead she leaves them once she cannot get what she wants. In contrast, Maggie is correct in her reaction. She becomes angered when Dee asks for the quilts knowing that she worked on them with her family. Maggie values her family and heritage in a way that Dee would not be able to even if she kept collecting items that reminded her of her oppressed ancestors. As Dee leaves the family home Maggie smiles, “But a real smile, not scared” (2382), to show the happiness she feels being defended by Mama as well as humbling her sister.

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