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“Everyday Use” is arguably among the best short stories work by Alice Walker. The story appeared in one of her famous collections “In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women.” Essentially, the story in “Everyday Use” is a captivate issue that highlights the essence of cultural heritage. Alice Walker uses the voice of a big-boned woman who at the same time is described to have rough man-working hands. She uses the character of an African American woman as the mother of the two kids to narrate her story and how her daughters have each changed and embraced different lifestyles. She uses the two daughters to show the difference in cultural heritage, and the two girls have responded to these changes. The choices that her daughter Dee and Maggie choose shows who they truly are and what they represent. When one of the daughters, Dee is civilized, and above the essence of ancient traditions like the quilts, Maggie just like her mother is well-endowed in these old ways which create a cultural conflict/ clash between the two girls.
- What was the central conflict in Alice’s story?
- How is the problem solved at the end?
Dee’s mother is an African woman who has two daughters Dee and Maggie. She is described as being big-boned and with man-like working hands. Being an African American woman, it meant that she had to work her life to fend for her children. Nonetheless, at this very young age, their house was brought down by fire whereby Maggie sustained a lot of wounds on her hands and legs. As such, she misses her opportunity to get an education. Nonetheless, she is well versed in their traditional ways well aware of her cultural heritage and the things that are of extreme value according to her culture. At the same time, she is engaged and about to marry her fiancé (Walker, Alice). According to her and her mother, she has attained all she could by securing herself marriage. On the other hand, Dee gets the chance to get an education and is henceforth changed into a civilized young lady with ambitions of achieving professional excellence. She has a boyfriend from her school whom they travel together to visit her mother on this very day.
When she arrives, she is met with absolute jubilation and warm appreciation by both her mother and her sister. Nonetheless, it is clear that she has changed her ways as she seems detached from the same materials she grew up around her family’s quilts. According to her these pieces are priceless and would make great artifacts for her school life as a way of showing her heritage. Dee continuously takes pictures of everything in her family, continually forcing Maggie and her mother to pose in front of the house and other places so that she could take photos of them (Whitsitt, Sam). Dee goes ahead to pack her families quilts which she intends to hang in her school apartment as cultural decorations. Maggie is appalled by her decisions and is thinking that Dee is a little disrespectful of their heritage more so because these particular quilts were a creation of Grandmother Dee, great-grandmother Dee and a majority of their family clothes (Walker, Alice). As such she refutes Dee from taking the quilts. For the first time, Maggie receives the acknowledgment of her mother by a warm embrace as her mother understands that Maggie is a woman who appreciates her cultural heritage.
From the text, it is clear that the paramount conflict in the short story is one based on cultural differences. It is clear that Dee had transformed fully into a new individual far from cultural entanglements. She has sought formal education, unlike her sister who is well-educated in their cultural ways. She has changed her name from Dee which was her family name to “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo” which shows her new identity (Walker, Alice). On the other hand, her sister Maggie has never attended formal education set-up and already has a fiancé to whom she is to get married. Primarily, this was the cultural set-up in their community whereby girls are to secure marriage. She also protects the heirloom quilts which represent her family’s heritage and wants to have them when she is married (Whitsitt, Sam). Her mother who also shares similar cultural standpoints as well supports Maggie for protecting her cultural heritage. As such, Dee loses the conflict to Maggie and heads back to school with her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Therefore, it is apparent that cultural differences between the two sides are the primary cause of conflict.
It is quite apparent that since that fire took down the house, the two girls were destined to have different lifestyles with Dee chasing the civilized world whereby she gets an education and has ambitions of turning her life around. On the other hand, Maggie just like her mother are deeply ingrained in their family traditions and are prepared to protect them. Through elaborate explanations, Alice manages to bring out the central conflict as the cultural conflict in the story.
- Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. 3rd ed., New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2012,.
- Whitsitt, Sam. “In Spite Of It All: A Reading Of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”.” African American Review, vol 34, no. 3, 2013, p. 443. Penn State Press (Project Muse), doi:10.2307/2901383.