Short Story Review: Alice Walker’s Everyday Use

       I.            Introduction

Values refer to a society’s set of standards by which members of a given society use to measure good and bad. These values also serve a wider function of providing acceptable guidelines that guide social order within a given cultural set up. However, various cultures may share certain traits. For example, most cultures of the share universal genres of music. Unfortunately, due to globalization and other factors in play, many people in the present world cannot be able to trace their families to more than two generations. This is in contrary to Alice Walker’s short story of 1973, where a mother and her daughters could trace their family backgrounds up to twenty generations (Madden 16). The story “Everyday Use” is full of lessons on family values and the consequences of going against such values. After reading the short story, the reader will definitely learn about the important of one’s heritage and acceptance of oneself.

    II.            Lessons About Family
  1. Importance of Family Heritage

Contrary to the present, “Everyday Use” presents Mama as representing her entire family’s history with pride of who she is. The Mama is family-oriented as evidenced on how she describes her two daughters, Dee and Maggie with unparalleled detail. The two sisters are also different in the sense that Dee went to school while Maggie never stepped into a class. It is for this reason that makes Dee attract much attention in the story (Schwartz 11). Dee is also the character that brings out the theme of heritage in a clear manner. To understand this point, the reader sees Dee as not happy about living with Mama in a poor condition, or so Mama assumes. Mama points out that she perceived Dee as having some element of hatred towards her family members. Mama thinks that things changed the moment they raised money with support of the church to help Dee raise some fee for college.

Furthermore, Mama feels that Dee did not only hate the immediate family but also the past generations. This is evident in the story when Dee appears to be ashamed of her mother, the house, and sister before receiving education. This aspect compromises family heritage in the short story. Dee later changes her names to Wangero Kemanjo, making her hatred for family heritage even more apparent. Dee says that she could bear anymore to have herself named after oppressors (Walker 419). The quoting of oppression indicates that Dee resents her family with a passion. This also implies that Dee is so ethnocentric to a point of judging the family that raised her due to its culture. It is even evident that she wants to abandon her original culture to adopt ‘new’ one.

After attaining education, Dee realizes the importance of family heritage. However, she has a different perspective of viewing family heritage. Dee’s perception of heritage is that of materialistic fashion since, according to her, the objects of her previous generations hold symbolic trophies. The author portrays Dee as not pleased with such objects, especially for use on their daily lives. On the contrary, however, Maggie and Mama embrace such objects as recognition of their family’s heritage despite the fact that the two differ about the concept of heritage. This different view of the concept of heritage between Maggie and Mama explains their constant problems.

  1. Accepting one’s Self

Apart from the need for recognition of the importance of one’s heritage, it is also fair to analyze the importance of accepting ourselves with respect to the prevailing circumstances. Accepting one’s humble beginnings is a great value for society members. This implies that it is not fair for not anyone in the society should take good fortune for granted. This is because, right from birth, all members of the society start life without anything (White 1). This is the case with Maggie and Dee in “Everyday Use”. However, it is important to note that the attitudes and perception about life by the two sisters differed sharply. For instance, with Maggie’s burning experience at early life, the girl’s childhood innocence vanishes into thin air, completely changing her attitude towards everything in the surrounding environment. Alice Walker also portrays the burning experience as weakening Maggie’s physical strength and a reader of the short story notices this point every other time Mama refers to Maggie.

Mama refers to Maggie’s condition in a very emotional manner. Mama says Maggie’s situation makes herself look like an animal sliding towards a human. The author goes ahead to symbolize the situation by portraying Mama walking in an up-side-down manner (Walker, 489). This implies that Mama is sorrowful of what happened to Maggie. The situation feels even more emotional when Maggie demands nothing from the family members and feels happy for being alive following the burning (Walker 448). However, with the unfolding issues, Dee maintains a different position from that of Maggie and Mama.

When Mama describes Maggie’s agony and reaction during the fire incident, she claims that Dee wore a look of concentration during the time. This implies that Dee was happy with the fact the old house was going down on fire. In the face of such tragedy, would feel remorseful and help rescue the situation (White 3). The author sends a message that Dee can show malice for starting life in humble and unforgiving beginnings. This attitude forms the biggest part of Dee’s failure in “Everyday Use”. Maggie and Dee grow up the have different changes in various ways of their lives. This is evident in the short story when Maggie remembers everything concerning her early life while Dee holds nothing of the same.

  1. Importance of Family Happiness

Another important family lesson to learn from Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” is being happy with oneself. This implies the importance of appreciating and acknowledging one’s roots and loving the people and things surrounding one’s life. In the short story, Mama is the major character representing this great value. Mama does not quarrel about the fact of working tirelessly to ensure that the family gets the basic needs for survival. Although Mama would have a different kind of life, she does not regret living in her present status. This is even evident to the reader every time Mama describes any prevailing situation. For instance, Mama claims that her yard is pleasant and awesome although it is made up of pleasant clay and sand (Schwartz 19). Mama also claims that she loved milking her family cows and hanging around them because they really appeared the most soothing animals on earth to her. This implies that Mama adores everything that makes up her life and cares very little about other people’s opinion on her daily activities.

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Although critics may have a negative opinion of Mama’s acceptance of change and her conservative nature, Alice Walker seems to present the character as comfortable with her activities and sees no need for change. However, Dee represents a greater need for change in the family. For instance, before joining college, Dee is very optimistic and feels unhappy for not having the material things she desires (Madden 17). This is even evident with Mama’s claims earlier in the story that Dee was fond of nice things, which would give the daughter satisfaction and pleasure. Although Dee might have a desire for material things to enable her join college, it is not a substantial reason to make her feel hatred and shame for her family members, and even she would do so, she would not bring her friends around. This is because Dee still remains unhappy with respect with certain things in life. Readers of the short story would definitely realize that Dee is unhappy and feels ashamed of her family’s living conditions.

Additionally, Mama wonders whether Dee would go back to visit family members regardless of where the family chose to live (Walker 490). Mama’s worries and wonders followed Dee’s letter confirming the same claims. This statement is a great evidence and confirmation of Dee’s shame and hatred towards her family. This is also evident that Dee would not feel happy on accomplishing her education since she would always feel something was amiss in her life. For instance, after finishing schooling, Dee would visit Mama and Maggie on various occasions and take Polaroid snaps of Mama and the environment without a clear explanation the effect. This is a clear indication that Dee wants to take away the pictures of her ‘oppressing’ backgrounds far away. Obviously, the sympathy she expects by taking away such items would fulfill her perceived fulfillment. Whatever the reason was, Dee did not necessarily need to take anything from the house, eventually leading to a conflict between Dee and Mama.


  1. Conclusion

In conclusion, Alice Walker’s short story “everyday Use” is one of the most teaching literatures that provide elaborate teachings to the society. The real-life experiences of 1973, the time of the story’s publication, are still in play in the current society. Factors such as the importance of heritage, humbleness in the society, and the need for happiness must remain the core values of every family and the larger society. In “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker sheds more light on the consequences resulting from family member’s loss of customs and guidelines that define bad deeds and right. Mama, Maggie, and Dee are the main characters used by Alice Walker to put forward these crucial teachings about family matters and way of life. The experiences in the short story provide a good indication of the happenings of the situations occurring when people mix life experience with their educational achievements. Therefore, this short story is a good piece in revealing the real-life experiences in the present day families and cautions children about influence of ‘new’ cultures that might erode their self-identities.



Works Cited

Madden, Frank. Exploring Literature. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. Print.

Schwartz, Bruce R. Alice Walker: Everyday Use. New York, N.Y: Films Media Group, 2005.

Internet resource

Walker, A. Everyday Use. In Love and Trouble. Mariner Books. 19 May 2003.

White, David. Everyday Use: Defining African-American Heritage. 2001. Anniina’s Alice

Walker Page. 24 February 2014.

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