Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Characters' Analysis

Someone once said knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss. Society may agree that knowledge is power, but too much power can cause someone to lose themselves. In the movie “Spanglish”, there was a little girl who lived with her mom who worked as a nanny for a white couple. Her employers fell in love with her daughter and doted on her by taking her out shopping, changing her hair, etc. The little girl was exposed and immersed in a different culture, in doing so she started obtaining a better education.

The more she became immersed the more she started to lose sight of who she was and where she came from. Although knowledge is power, too much power can cause someone to lose themselves. In the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker there is a character who is well educated but loses sight of who she is. In today’s society, education is a privilege and can be accessible to anyone.

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Too much education can cause people to become narrow-minded, prideful, and arrogant, this causes people to lose sight of where they came from. That's Everyday Use by Alice Walker: character analysis.

In, “Everyday Use” the story beings with a character Mama who talks about her two daughters Maggie and Dee. Maggie is the youngest daughter who is sweet, kind, and shy. She did not get an education and was burned from a house they previously lived in. In contrast, her daughter Dee was able to obtain an education with the help of her Mama and church.

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Unlike Maggie, Dee is very independent, prideful, and well educated. Mama, like Maggie, did not get a full education and stopped learning by the second grade. Mama recounts memories of her daughters and talks about her life, the house, and the yard. In the story it’s just her and Maggie, Dee had moved away and promised she would come to visit. One day, Dee arrives with her boyfriend Hakim-a-barber and claims that “Dee” isn’t her name but has a new name Wangero Leewainka Kenmanjo. She gives herself a new name because she didn’t want to go by a name that she claims were given to her by her oppressor. Once they all meet, they all sit down and have lunch. Dee can recount many memories of items around the house and admires them not for nostalgia but for her preserved items. She then goes into another room and finds quilts that were handed down to her Mama. Dee asks Mama if she can have the quilts, but Mama remembers that they were promised to Maggie instead. Tension builds up and Dee argues that Maggie is unfit to care for them and that she would “backwardly” use them instead of taking care of the quilts. Mama realizes something and snatches the quilts and hugs, Maggie while telling Dee she can take the other quilts. Upset, Dee walks out of the room and tells Mama that she doesn’t understand her ironic heritage. Mama and Maggie watch the dust settle as Dee and her boyfriend leave.

Although the story revolves around three main characters, two characters stand out the most which are Mama and Dee. When analyzing Mama who is also the narrator, is a loving mother who is sometimes threatened and burdened by her two daughters. Dee threatens her mom by trying to lord her education over her, and Maggie who is a lame child yet sweet. Due to this, the story has many monologues which offer insight into Mama’s unconditional love for her children. Mama also describes herself as a “big-boned woman with rough man working hands” (Walker 287). This gives insight into the type of lifestyle she grew up around and how it had made such a big impact on her. It’s as they say, “your environment shapes who you are or become”, in this case, Mama grew up in a type of lifestyle that consisted of a lot of labor. To others, it might seem a little difficult but to Mama, this type of lifestyle that didn’t require much education was second-hand nature to her because of her heritage. Even though Mama did not obtain an education for herself or in her case stopped by the second grade, she still wants the best for her children. Mama has so much love for her daughters that she sends one to school and cares for the other. At the beginning of the story, you can tell the author foreshadows a little bit of the conflict. When Mama fantasizes about reuniting with her daughter (Dee), “On TV mother and child embrace and smile into each other’s faces” (Walker 286). This passage shows that Mama resents education and feels underappreciated for everything that she’s done for her daughter Dee. Nonetheless, she doesn’t let it get to her and doesn’t fully understand Dee or the world that she lives in. When Dee visits, she ultimately feels she is being rejected by her daughter and her origins.

In contrast to Mama, Dee on the other hand is a completely different character. Dee is proud, prideful and at times arrogant. Her education has made her into a different person, in which she tries to impose her knowledge on her family. Additionally, she is a very judgmental character, “Maggie’s brain is like an elephant’s” (Walker 292). She makes no effort to be a part of the family but appears to reject her family. She is not easily intimidated but brims with confidence, “She would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature” (Walker 287). Unlike Mama, who is very respectful and admits when she doesn’t know something (i.e. pronouncing Dee’s boyfriend/husband's name), Dee is condescending. She claims she’s embracing her heritage when throughout the story she is constantly rejecting it. Because she obtained an education and is an activist, she ends up connecting herself to an idealized Africa while dishonoring and embracing her real roots. When comparing both characters, Dee is evolving with the world and Mama is content with where she’s at in life; she’s already happy, and Dee on the other hand hunger for more. The one thing they share in common is embracing their heritage but the difference in this is one character has it completely backward. Dee doesn’t understand her heritage and completely rejects it, whereas Mama knows who she is, and where she comes from, and not once does she boast about it as there is no need. However, this type of mindset that Mama has aggravates Dee throughout the story. As a result, you can tell Dee lacks complete respect for her family. When thinking about the historical context of “Everyday Use”, this was during a period when African Americans had a hard time redefining their culture, and social and political identities. Many Africans faced racial discrimination and lived in a time of segregation and violence. African Americans during this time still had aspects of heritage like Mama that survived centuries of slavery. This heritage was still very much visible in their life. “It is one of the great ironies of American labor history that enslaved workers toiled at a wider variety of skilled tasks than did their descendants who were free. Slave owners...” (https://prospect.org/article/black-workers-remember). As mentioned the heritage was still visible, as Mama mentioned in the beginning, she could work outside all day. Therefore, Mama’s labor of a lifestyle was second-hand nature. As for Dee, “children only had half the chance of completing high school, only a third the chance of completing college…” (http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3323). This passage supports why a character like Dee wished to progress further and would want to be politically involved (i.e. activist). She wanted to be on top and make a change, due to this mindset, she clashed with her and Mama which made the both frustrated with each other. This type of information supports racism, discrimination, and colonialism.

Given these points, Mama is a character who is content and had her heritage very visible in her lifestyle. She is content, happy and as mentioned can work outside all day that does not involve education. Dee is a character who is always constantly wanting to grow but because of her education, she tries to impose her beliefs on her family. This character demonstrates what it’s like to be consumed in education while losing herself. She forgot her heritage, and roots and rejects them. Her education has made her idolize the African culture instead of embracing her roots. As a result, too much education caused her to be too prideful, arrogant, and narrow-minded; according to Everyday Use by Alice Walker: character analysis.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Characters' Analysis. (2024, Feb 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/everyday-use-by-alice-walker-characters-analysis-essay

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