Describe the narrator in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Mrs. Johnson’s narration is honest and forthright. The reader sees the story ”Everyday Use” by Alice Walker through Mama’s eyes. Dee and Maggie—Mama’s daughters do not make life any easier for her.  The author chose not to provide the mother's name, so she Mama or Mrs. Johnson.

As the narrator, Mrs. Johnson provides information about her life and the differences between her daughters.  Her life has been harsh and filled with hard work.

I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man.  I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing…

Mama has never been to school, and thus she cannot read. Most of her life she has worked like a man and worried about her daughters.  Her daydreams revolve around her daughter Dee and the two of them on a television show.

Maggie, her youngest daughter, has become Mama’s companion.  She worries about Maggie because she has lost her connection to the real world. Severely injured when the family’s house burned several years before, Maggie is both emotionally and physically scarred. According to the narration, Maggie both loves and resents Dee.

Neither of the women understand Dee who represents everything that both Mama and Maggie are not. She is pretty, self-confident, educated, insensitive, and extremely selfish.  Unconcerned about Mama and Maggie, Dee hates her life at home.  When she goes off to school, Dee becomes interested in the Black Muslims and changes her name to Wangero. 

What happened to Dee? I wanted to know.

She’s dead,” Wangero said. ‘I couldn’t beat it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.’

Ironically, those oppressive people are Dee’s purpose in visiting her mother.  Through the narration of Dee’s visit, Mama reveals her deep love for both of her daughters; however, Dee goes too far when she does not respect her legacy supplied by her ancestors. Dee wants to take two quilts dating back to the Civil War and other memorabilia.   Her intention is to display the quilts on her walls to show her black heritage.  She believes that she is African not African –American.

For the first time, Mama says “No” to Dee. She refuses to give the quilts to her.  These quilts represent Mama’s connection to her past.  They had been made by loving hands from pieces of clothes of her ancestors. They are important to Mama. She tells Dee that she has promised the quilts to Maggie.  Dee has the world before her, and Maggie has little to show for her existence.

For the first time, Mama realizes how important Maggie is to her and draws near to her.  Dee can find her way in the black world.  Mama and Maggie will sit on the porch and enjoy the solitude.

Using the mother to narrate the story, the author points up the importance of both aspects of black heritage.  The black people are not just African, but African-American.   When Mama speaks, Alice Walker, the author,  finds her voice.



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