Literary Criticism # 1: Everyday Use


This following entry presents criticism of short story, “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. 

      The short story “Everyday Use”, by Alice Walker, who is one of the foremost contemporary American writers, was first published in 1973. The story illustrates the perception of the mother and her two daughters’ conflicting ideas about their identities and ancestry. The story concerns a rare visit from her eldest daughter, Dee (who now prefers to be called Wangero), pays to her mother and younger sister, Maggie. As she waits for her daughter, narrator reveals details about their family history specifically about the relationship between her two girls. A fire that burned down their first house and left Maggie, badly scarred on her arms and legs. After the Fire, with the help of church and her mother, Dee was sent off to college while Maggie remained at the house and learned traditional skills from her family. When Dee arrives with her boyfriend Hakim-a-Barber, there were many changes that her mother recognizes in Dee which she dissapproves but never reveals it to her, however as a reader you can absorb this from the way Dee’s mother reacts. After the dinner, a sudden urge errupts of Dee having these old quilts that were hand-stitched by her Grandmother Dee from the scraps of her Grandmother’s clothing. While Dee and Mama arguing Maggie tries to solve the issue by letting Dee keep the quilts. Because of Dee’s false intentions which is to hang the quilts on the wall as a decoration and Mama’s previously given promise to Maggie, Mama denies Dee’s wish. When Dee is refused from having the old quilts by her mother, Dee snaps, “You just don’t understand your heritage” and leaves.

       Mother, the narrator and the protagonist in the story, who is an older African-American woman living with her younger daughter, Maggie. Mother is overweight and built more like a man than a woman. Although uneducated and poor, She is a strong, independent, and takes great pride in her way of life. Dee, an educated women who now lives in the city. Dee is the popular, beautiful one who aspires for higher, sophisticated goals. She is seen as materialistic, complex and a modern woman. Maggie, the youngest daughter who lives with mama. Her personality is the opposite of her sister. She is very plain, timid, and a humble character. Hakim-A-Barber is Dee’s boyfriend who accompanies her on her visit back home.

      The major plot of this story deals with the idea of one’s past memories can be kept alive through scraps such as the old quilts that were put together by Dee’s great Grandmother by her clothing that she used to wear. Many of such traditions are sometimes lost because people in today’s generations don’t realize the essence of these valueable things that are handed down from generations to generations. On the contrary, sometimes the kids are smart enough to know the difference such as Maggie because her character authenticates this fact. I think Alice is doing a great thing by recapitulating the significance of these quilts by demonstrating that, if Mama would have given the quilts to Dee, knowing her character, Dee would’ve not taken care of them as well Maggie plans to do in future by making more. Afterall, Dee doesn’t even know how to quilt, in addition, she plans to keep them as “decorating piece” on the wall, which is not preffered by her mother. On the other hand, Maggie is very opposite of her because even though she is downgraded by her sister Dee, she still respects Dee and just to prevent the argumentation among her family she tries to give it to her. However, her mother understands that also but maintains her promise and her values so therefore refuses to fulfill Dee’s wish.

     Personally, I like the short story because it embraces the important part of life which is expressed through cherishing the things passed down from past generations to future generations. For instance, my friend had collection of these old baseball cards of great players that played the game decades before. One day I asked how did you manage to have these cards? He then revealed it to me that they were collected by his father and grandfather at one time. I was amazed that not only those are value financially but its a great gesture of their father and grandfather which my friend seems to continue with his son by planning to passing it on to his son. So its a great a thing knowing that something that is passed down to you from your ancestors can be memorable throughout you whole life for which one should always continue the tradition. So that’s why I like the message in the story because the things that are handed down to you or were part of your ancestors are very much memorable and represents your past generations.

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