What is the basic situation in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The three conflicts which structure Alice Walker's moving short story "Everyday Use" are:

1. Fantasy and reality: The story begins with the mother dreaming and fantasizing about how she would like her relationship with Dee to be:"You've no doubt seen those TV shows where the child who has "made it" is confronted..........But that is a mistake. I know even before I wake up." The mother desires to have a sentimental relationship with Dee whom she expects to be overwhelmingly and eternally grateful towards her for all the sacrifices she had made to give her a prosperous life style. Hence the difference between the mother's dream and expectations and the reality of the situation where Dee has scant regard or respect for her mother's expectations.

2. Conservative and progressive attitude: Dee has changed her name into the African Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because her old name "Dee" reminded her of her white colonial masters. Outwardly her reason for changing her name might be politically correct but its certainly not culturally correct.  Her entire past is negated because of this name change. Dee's mother traces the family history of that name saying, "though, in fact, I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches."  Thus the conservative attitude of the mother clashes with the progressive attitude of Dee.

3. Education: Dee was the intelligent girl who graduated from high school in Augusta unlike Maggie who "knows that she is not bright" and only semi literate;  the mother of course confesses, "I never had an education myself." Thus education and a lack of education is also a source of conflict in the mother - daughter relationship and sister - sister relationship:

"Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe."

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is a genuinely funny story (“Ream it out again,” the mother says as she tries to learn her daughter’s new name, and she keeps—possibly with tongue in cheek—slipping the new name in throughout the story) with serious undertones. Narrated by the mother, whose wry good sense contrasts vividly with her older daughter’s pretensions, the story highlights not only a generation gap, but a contrast between two sharply different attitudes toward the idea of heritage, an older sister who claims it, a mother and younger sister who live it.

Dee (the older sister), returning to her home, and having suddenly discovered that old quilts and dashers are potentially interesting decorations, accuses her mother and (younger) sister, Maggie, of not understanding their heritage because they fail to appreciate the artistic value of such objects. But, she herself is so divorced from her heritage that she does not know which member of the family made the dasher. It may be true, as Dee accuses, that Maggie and her mother don’t “understand” their heritage—at least not in an intellectual way.

The story suggests, however, that by using the quilt, and by having learned the traditional skills passed from generation to generation required to make one, Maggie, the homely, uneducated sister, knows more about her African American heritage than does Dee (Wangero). Maggie and her mother live their cultural heritage; they are nourished by it through everyday use and versed in the craftsmanship needed to pass it on to future generations.

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