“Everyday Use” is a highly symbolic story with manifold themes and interpretations. It not only locates conflict that existed within the Afro-American community and presents life in relation to modern and traditional concept of Afro-American heritage but it further takes into account the feminist themes and agendas. It is a representative story of Black movement of 1960s but it does not manifest the Afro-American quest for socio-cultural identity like other Black Movement literature. The central conflict is symbolized by two main characters; Mrs.
Johnson and Dee. Dee is an epitome of shallow materialism and an adherent of prevailing concept of heritage where heritage is revered only for trendiness and aesthetic attraction whereas Mrs. Johnson admires heritage for its practical utility and personal importance. Central conflict is between Maggie and Dee and it is about whether legacy and heritage subsists in belongings or in spirit. Dee’s longing for heritage is for ostentatious reasons. Contemporary periodical necessities make her cherish and celebrate her Afro-American heritage. But Mrs.
Johnson and Maggie have learnt to live with their heritage. Dee is captivated by the beauty of “churn top” and wanted to have it to be used as centerpiece for her alcove table whereas Mrs. Johnson has used it practically for churn butter hitherto. Walker utilizes the butter churn to demonstrate Mrs. Johnson’s intrinsic understanding of heritage. When [Dee] finished wrapping the dasher the handle stuck out. I took it for a moment in my hands. You didn’t even have to look close to see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood.
In fact, there were a lot of small sinks; you could see where thumbs and fingers had sunk into the wood. It was a beautiful light yellow wood, from a tree that grew in the yard where Big Dee and Stash had lived. (Walker, “Everyday Use” use page number from your textbook) The narration of the story is in first-person where everything is reported and understood through the lenses of Mrs. Johnson. Her observation is astute as she provides minute details about the actions of her daughters. Alice Walker has introduced various symbols and figurative language to communicate some thematic expressions.
The conflict of heritage becomes more evident as well as critical as the quilts are brought in the story. It signifies the procedure from which the insignificant and worthless may be changed into the valued and functional. The development of Dee into Wangero shows various facets and phases through which black identity passed during late 1960s and 1970s. Predilection for appearance as compared with spirit remained hallmark of this era and this trend is manifested through Dee’s transformation into Wangero. Social standing of females was a favorite subject to the writers at the start of 20th century.
Society was dominated by patriarchy, male chauvinism and supremacy whereas women were perceived as fragile and dependant. Every Day Use is a thematic expression of feminism and manifests it at various levels and in various orientations. It also revolves around the same theme which was basically about their feminist struggles. In “Everyday Use”, Alice juxtaposes the female character against the pathos and miseries of life and demonstrates their strong will and mental capacity to stand against those hardships. They are subservient to any male character and do not needs their companionship.
Hence Alice augments their characterization by inculcating a female identity. Although Feminism stands for women to have the same status as men in the society but Alice exhibits another manifestation of Feminism i. e. not a wish to have equal status but a practical demonstration to contribute equally to the socio-cultural milieu of the time. Dee is an epitome of shallow materialistic feminism and an adherent of prevailing concept of feminism that believes in things and materialistic feministic achievements whereas Mrs. Johnson looks at the spirit of feminism and contributes toward it at her own level.
She raises up two daughters by her own. This implies she has already taken the position of a father. These kinds of female have the ability to make their own decisions and have independence of thought and actions. The mother even shows how useful and strong a woman is. In the story, Alice Walker pointed out that the mother is “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands”. So Everyday Use is not a mere feministic wish to acquire equal status and should be considered and treated on equal terms but it is a practical manifestation of this feminist thought and ideology.
Overall, Walker has invited us start living with our heritage instead of merely cherishing it. She further wants us to search our roots in the American soil instead of locating it on other continents. This story has eternalized the Afro-American themes in particular and feminist theme in general. The characteristic that makes the story universal and eternal is symbolic representation f the above-mentioned themes. It can be read and interpreted in various ways and at various levels.