“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker centers in the story between a Mother and her children with conflicting ideas on cultural and ancestral preservation (Mohr). The mother who was described in the story as an uneducated, “big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” who lived in a rural locality depicted a typical black woman during the 1950s-1960s. The story opens as she waited for her two daughters, Dee and Maggie, as they arrived home from the city studying in a university. Upon their arrival at home, they had a quarrel over the possession of an heirloom quilt.
The piece illustrates several levels of meaning. There were various symbolism employed by the writer. The possession of the “quilt” which the whole story revolved around symbolizes the traditional history and the art of the African-American culture, and to their woman to be specific. Their traditional art gives emphasis on abstract designs as shown by the quilt (Mohr). Moreover, it beautifully creates a transition where something as unimportant and as invaluable as a quilt contained a rich and valued importance such as a cultural representation as the story unfolded.
The use of Mrs. Johnson as the point of view in this story has a vital role in how the author contrasted the love for culture as opposed to Mrs. Johnson’s daughter Dee’s who showed less worth towards their Black heritage. Her description as a mother symbolizes the general older generation of the African-American culture while on the other hand her daughters who were then educated in college was a representation of the current (new breed) generation. The dispute over the quilt reflects the two sides of the Black societies.
Because of the hidden meanings in the story, there will be several ways one can use in order to explain and interpret the story. The mother experienced a lot of confusions and at the same time the incident revealed to her, her daughters’ contradictory understanding towards their lineage. She described her daughter Maggie like “a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car”, that is, she recognized her daughter as unsophisticated but loyal (like a dog), as opposed to Dee who see saw as “”burned us with a lot of knowledge…”.
This description mirrored Dee’s central role in the story which is a representation of the materialistic and complicated modern Black who was caught in the confusing web between acknowledging her culture and the “fitting in trend” that was prevalent after the Black Power Movement (Ogbar). Even with the contrasted description, Mrs. Johnson decided to give the quilt to Maggie; she thus confirmed and affirmed her younger daughter’s idea of self-worth and at the same time revealed her own concept through Maggie’s personality.
Another important highlight in the story is the similarity between the names of Dee and to that of their Grandmother Dee and this ultimately set the comparison between Dee and her grandmother. The similarity in the name suggests that they came from the same race but the obvious distinction in their characters showed the degree of the influence of the white’s culture to Dee and the preservation efforts by Grandmother Dee as exemplified by doing traditional quilting. The story “Everyday Use” is a reflection of the author’s early life.
Alice Walker who was involved in the efforts of cultural preservation used literature as a device to convey her position and opinion as a Black African American in their turbulent period of struggle for equality. This short story took place in a setting almost the same as the place where she grew up in Georgia. More striking parallelism is on the character of Maggie Johnson, like Maggie, Alice Walker is also disfigured due to a gunshot wound. On the other hand, her similarities with Dee are reflected in their exemplary intelligence which both gained them scholarships in universities.
As observed in this story, Alive Walker blatantly expressed her views and judgments towards this racial discrimination and this story was as effective as it is since this is reflective of her life, therefore the feelings associated with it has deep connection to her. Art, for example writing, as I stressed in the introduction is one of the effective vessel that carries your thoughts when you don’t want to deliberately express an unaccepted idea and also, it is a helpful tool for conveying a strong message at the same time entertaining.
Courtney from Study Moose
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