Is Everyday Use a literary work or commercial?

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

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Just as the quilt can either be displayed as a cultural symbol by Dee or integrated into culture as part of every day life by Maggie, so too can the story be debated as a stand-alone commercial work or as one intended to be integrated into the literary cannon.

So, this question puts us in the position of Mrs. Johnson.  Who do we give the story to?

I say it is literary.  First, the story is one of the most anthologized short stories of the post-modern era.  It is her most significant work, even more critically reviewed and read than her longer, more commercial work The Color Purple.  Whereas the The Color Purple was adapted into a movie and a musical, "Everyday Use" has remained in the hands of the literary-minded (editors, teachers, critics).

Secondly, short stories are not huge money makers.  What little royalties Walker gets for her story to be anthologized pales in comparison to what her novels have received.  Also, the book of short stories to which it belongs, In Love and Trouble, is not a best-seller.  It ranks 327,000 on Amazon's book sales list.

Thirdly, the story is rich in literary style.  Its narrative voice is unique.  Its use of symbols can be studied in literature, sociology, or history classes.  So says Enotes:

The thematic richness of “Everyday Use” is made possible by the flexible, perceptive voice of the first-person narrator.


In addition to the skillful use of point of view, “Everyday Use” is enriched by Alice Walker's development of symbols. In particular, the contested quilts become symbolic of the story's theme; in a sense, they represent the past of the women in the family.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I suppose you could find different answers present to this question.  Yet, I find it difficult to see Walker's work as being considered commercially driven.  I am sure an analysis could be offered to prove the point, but I just think that there is too much to suggest that it is a literary work, first and foremost.  Consider the subject matter of rural, Southern, Black women as a reason for the literary value of the work.  Walker seeks to expand the dialogue to incorporate a specific region of people who are of color and women.  In this sentence, there are three distinct valences of experience that lie outside the commercial norm.  Publishers in the 1950s American social and political setting would not have been clamoring with huge signing bonuses for a work on this topic.  It does not seem logical.  At the same time, given the historical influences on Walker and the work such as the Civil Rights Movement and the dissonance echoed in the nationalist and resistance stances struck by many of the individuals within the movement, the work stands on literary grounds, seeking to bring a literary dimension to the political one.

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