This is going to shock you, but the story for today isn’t like anything we have explored before. As you will find with this series we will explore all sorts of genres and types of stories. And of course we will go through all sorts of ways of sharing stories as well. This particular story actually falls into what some would call literary fiction (though I prefer to think of it as a slice of life story).
Though you might not recognize this story right away, you should at least recognize the author or maybe one of her more prominent works, The Color Purple. When I first read “Everyday Use” I was struck by how close I related to the characters. But I may be jumping ahead of the game. Let’s get to the critique…
“Everyday Use” is a story about expectations. Though it is written from the viewpoint of a black woman, the story itself transcends race. It is a story of human experience and social interaction.
“I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon” (Walker 1512). This opening line is unassuming but sets the stage for the rest of the story. Mama and Maggie work to do their best, to give her daughter Dee the best. But as the reader finds through the story, this isn’t good enough for Dee.
Through reflection and daydreaming, Mama shares with the reader the character of Dee.
“She wrote me once, that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends. Maggie and I thought about this and Maggie asked me, ‘Mama, when did Dee ever have any friends” (Walker 1514)
On the surface it would seem that Dee accepts that she has a family and a history, but what is seen deeper in, they will never measure up to the standards she has placed before them. No one can be good enough for Dee’s standards.
To add insult to injury, Dee has also changed her name. She rejected her given name, a name handed down through generations for something she felt suited the image she had of herself better. The man she “chose” to spend time with followed the same patterns.
In the end, the point of contention came about in the battle of ownership of various items within the house. Dee walked through the house and laid claim items within the house not for their sentimental value but for the value they gave her within the station she claimed.
The climax of the story hit within the fight for the quilts. Dee saw them as a prize, something she would simply hang on the wall. This is where Mama drew the line. She and her daughter Maggie valued the items in question for their intrinsic value within the family and the functionality of their lives. She refused to relinquish something that would not be put to use for its intended purpose.
The final few paragraphs make a poignant statement. Dee in her exasperation takes a final pot shot at her mother. In her attack she claims that her mother doesn’t understand her heritage. In Dee’s eyes it is something to be used to elevate station, but Mama and Maggie both settle into the knowledge that they honor their forebears by using what they have.
As we live our lives we collect cultural artifacts that have a value to us for various reasons. No matter how you want to look at it, there will always be those who place a different value on the things we keep in our lives. I know for me personally, I rarely have items in my life that denote a specific status. But somethings carry a status of their own beyond what we may personally give them.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Seventh ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 1512-1518. Print
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