Can anyone explain to me the Rural-Urban conflict in "Everyday Use"?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The conflict between urban and rural is pretty much tied up with the conflict between old and new, traditional and radical in this story.

You can see this conflict throughout the second part of the story -- the part where Dee (aka Wangero) comes back with her boyfriend Hakim a barber.

In this part, the urban people (Dee and Hakim) and the rural people totally cannot understand each other.  Mrs. Johnson is so "backwards" that she thinks Hakim's greeting is his name.  The city people are so untraditional and trendy that they think a quilt is too valuable to be used.

So the conflict is seen in all these misunderstandings -- the two groups are really fundamentally different.

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The main conflict in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" deals with the rural-urban conflict of language.  Whereas Mrs. Johnson is uneducated (never learned to read and write) and descended from a long line of self-sufficient, tough matriarchs, she is distrustful of language.  She is a country woman, a woman of few words, a woman of action: she "sweeps" and "butchers."

Mrs. Johnson, though she is the narrator, is not comfortable in the role.  She does not like talk.  She knows that appearing on the Johnny Carson talk show with Dee is an unrealistic fantasy.  She knows that the urban viewers would not want to see and hear a rural woman in overalls struggle to find the right urban words to say.  They would want to hear and see Dee.

Maggie is even worse with words than her mother.  She does not speak at all, only grunts, "Unnhh."  She is disenfranchised of all language, resigning herself to be a domestic the rest of her life.

When Dee returns, her language has changed from rural to urban.  Worse, it's become trendy and polemic as a result of her Afro-Muslim-Black Nationalism.  Her words are foreign to Mrs. Johnson.  When Dee demands the heirlooms, Mrs. Johnson does not like her urban, demanding tone: it is privileged instead of acquiescent.

In the end, Mrs. Johnson gives Maggie the heirlooms; more, she gives Maggie her voice as matriarch.  Mrs. Johnson wants Maggie to speak up more, and if she is given the title of matriarch, her mother knows this will happen.  Mrs. Johnson's narrative voice even deletes Dee from the end of the story.  The end focuses entirely on Maggie and her, the rural matriarchs who distrust urban demands.

dstuva's profile pic

Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The central conflict in Walker's "Everyday Use" is between traditional black culture and what some think black culture should become; between traditional black culture and new, well-educated, sophisticated blacks.

This is a conflict between rural and urban in the sense that traditional black culture is rural, and the new, sophisticated black culture is centered in urban areas, where most universities are located, as well as numerous cultural activities. 

Maggie and the narrator are part of the traditional black culture, while Dee is part of the movement toward sophistication. 

While some commentators point out that Walker herself may well be more like sophisticated, urban blacks, the story seems to suggest that the traditional black culture has unique qualities that give it value, and a dignity of its own.

skwon1022's profile pic

skwon1022 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 2) eNoter

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Relvoing around a family conflict triggered by a proud, confident character Dee's desire to obtain her personal and cultural heritage but inability to appreciate genuine identity of other characters, her mother and very disparate sister, Maggie, "Everyday Use" underscores a generation gap and a contrast between two distinctively different attitudes toward heritage. Although Maggie and their mother do not attempt to understand their cultural heritiage intellectually, they know and can feel it everyday by simply living their cultural heritage, maintained int he form of family relics: the quilt.

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