Essay on The Era in Which the Short Story Everyday Use by Alice Walker Was Written

In the short story Everyday Use, Alice Walker discusses many important themes that play a vital role in our society:  the theme of interpersonal relationships, the meaning of heritage in the life of an individual, generation conflict and some other themes.  It is known that the plot of the short story Everyday Use is set in the period of late 1960s and early 1970s, when many African Americans tried to rethink their social position, and they struggled to have control over their cultural, political and social identity in American society (Bloom 76). This period in the history of the United States is well-known for the attempt of millions of African Americans to prove the fact that the contributions of African Americans to the history of the USA were great. During this period of time, many scholars were greatly interested in the role of African Americans, their culture and traditions, their contributions and talents (Bloom 78).  Moreover, it is known that they were greatly interested in the aspects of their heritage which had been kept during the period of slavery and still existed in the African American culture.

Alice Walker tried to represent the events of those days and the state of mind of African Americans in her story Everyday Use. The main characters of the story give an opportunity to understand the thoughts and desires of African American youth and their behavior. Walker’s story is told in first person by one of the characters – Mama, who is an African American woman living in the South with Maggie, one of her two daughters. The author of the story uses humor and irony in order to illustrate the major differences between the representatives of different generations: Mama or Mrs. Johnson, her younger daughter Maggie, and her educated daughter Dee, who prefers the other name Wangero, and who feels scorn for her roots in favor of a pompous native African American identity.

In the story Everyday Use, the main characters are Mama and her two daughters, Maggie and Dee. One of the daughters, Maggie, lives with her mother at home in the rural South, while her sister Dee has gone to college and lives far away from her relatives. Mama is proud of her daughters and wants them to be happy. She says, I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon (Walker 92). However, the sisters are different in character and behavior. Mama describes Maggie as “chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground.”(Walker 94). Dee is communicative, while Maggie is shy. Some literary critics consider that Dee imitates the so-called cultural nationalists, who try to emphasize the intensive development of black culture as a tool to promote freedom and social equality (White 7).

In addition, Dee is represented as a selfish character with a so-called superficial understanding of her national heritage. The young girl is one of those young African Americans who lived in the late 1960s and had their own world perceptions and lifestyle. The author of the story pays special attention to Dee’s interactions with her mother and younger sister Maggie. As one of the literary critics states, Dee considers herself as cultured, and far beyond the quality of the lives lived by her Mama and sister Maggie (Bloom 61). She shows her feelings when she wants to take the quilts which Mama had promised to the younger daughter Maggie. She says, Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts… she’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use (Walker 103). Dee believes that she will respect her heritage if the quilts are used for the purposes that are other than their initial intent. However, Dee knows little about the past of her family and national traditions. She does not know the true facts about the creation of the quilts, about the fabrics which were used to make them. Nevertheless, she pretends to be interested in the history and traditions of her family and feels herself as a part of this folk tradition. She wants to hang the quilts in the museum, and does not feel that these objects belong to her family and are closely connected with her nation’s traditions and culture (Bloom 54).

In great contrast with Dee, the younger sister Maggie is more simplistic and kind-hearted person in Alice Walker’s short story Everyday Use. The above mentioned characteristics prove the fact that she is a more likely bearer of sacredness, tradition, and true value than her brighter sister (Walker 163). Maggie is a person who understands the real meaning of African heritage. According to her sister’s words, Maggie is backward enough to put their mother’s quilts to everyday use. However, Dee fails to understand that her sister Maggie is preserving the heritable importance of their mother’s quilts. Alice Walker pays the readers’ attention to the cultural significance of Maggie’s character in the story when Mama says, I did something that I never had done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragger her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands and dumped them into Maggie’s lap (Walker104). Maggie is ready to keep connection with her heritage. The readers realize this fact as well as Mama. Maggie is one of those young people in the African American community who seek to pass on their heritage without creating a generation conflict in the community.

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