Alice Walker’s _Everyday use_ is a story about a mother and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. Mama, the narrator, of the story gives us a good description of both daughters by showing their different strengths and weakness. Dee and Maggie are as different as day and night but Mama love them both. Dee the older daughter is very beautiful, independent, confident, and educated but she is also arrogant, selfish and self centered. Maggie on the other hand, is uneducated and unattractive with burn scars on her face arm and leg leading to her having a low self esteem and being shy. Mama, an African American is a strong hard-working, independent, uneducated, and self sufficient woman who despite all these great qualities still have a low self esteem and lacks self confidence.
Mama being an independent woman, describes herself as ” a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands ” ( Walker 104). Working hard in every sense of the word. She worked hard to give her daughter the chance in life that she never had. A single mother who works hard to take care of her family, and took up the responsibility as head of the family . Mama is able to work all day regardless of the weather and she ” can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man”(walker 104). But apart from her physical strength, she also show mental toughness. A large black woman with a heart as big as her profile and the work ethics of an ox. She had the strength of a man and could do any man’s job, and she takes pride in the practical aspect of her life.
Mama when growing up, had few civil liberties as a colored person . She mentioned that ” after second grade, the school was closed down”(Walker 105), and because of this she is not educated and cannot read. However her lack of education and refinement does not prevent her from having an inherent understanding of her heritage based on her love and respect for those who came before her. This is clear from her ability to associate pieces of fabric in two quits with the people whose clothes they have been cut from. A woman whose formal education was cut short in 1927 right after she achieved a second grade education, apparently embraced her daughter’s brilliance and ambitiousness by raising money, with the help of their church to send her to school in Augusta.
Mama allowed Dee to get whatever she wanted that Mama could afford because of her academic intelligence. She explains that ” Dee wanted nice things…. black pumps to match a green suit she’d made from an old suit someone gave me”(walker 105). Mama allows Dee to take the old green suit given to her by someone and that was probably Mama best outfit given that Dee knew what style was. But Dee always wanted more to the extent that Mama “fought off the temptation to shake her”(walker 105).
Unlike her daughter Dee, Mama lacks self confidence and self esteem. She states that ” who can even imagine me looking a strange white man in the eyes?”(104); always taking the defensive posture of flight and avoiding the white man as much as possible. Mama knew her place, and that she could not rub shoulders with white folks. Furthermore Mama feels self conscious about her appearance because she knows that Dee will not approve. Sometimes, mama dreams ” … I am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake (Walker 104). Mama dreams that Dee will love her for who she is, and appreciate her all she’d done to ensure that she attain her goals.
Dee on the other hand never shows any kind of appreciation to her mother. Mama in the process of being a good mother to her daughters is unknowingly bias to her daughter Maggie in favor of Dee. This was because Dee had the looks and brains and, thus had potentials to be successful in life. She sometimes dream that Dee will embrace her with thanks and love and appreciate her heritage. She seems to avoid conflicts of any type. This when Dee arrives and announces that her name is no longer Dee but Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, Mama put up little fight about a family name that has been passed through the generation.
Mama is a dynamic character in the story. Throughout the entire story Mama pretty much acts like a pacifist. never wanting to start any trouble or put her foot down about anything. She comes to a realization of Dee’s superficiality and Maggie’s profound understanding of heritage. Maggie is so much like Mama and not one to fight for anything was willing to let Dee take the quilt that Mama had promised her as a wedding gift, and this same quilt Dee had once refused to take to college. Dee complains that ” Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts… she’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use”(Walker 110).
Dee will rather hang them to decorate her apartment. Seeing the selfish, egotistical nature of Dee still present after all these years, always wanting and not willing to give; Mama concludes that ” I did something I never did before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands and dumped them on Maggie’s lap”(Walker 110-111). Mama decides that Maggie deserves the quilt because heritage is appreciated and respected through everyday use. Alice Walker opens the reader eyes to see that it is very important to accept our heritage and appreciate it. Our heritage is part of who we are.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use” _In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens_. New York: Anchor Books, 1984
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