What is the social/cultural background of this story?

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

The first thing that I thought of when I read your question was the role of black nationalism and the influence of the back-to-Africa movement in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use." The short story was first published in 1973, around the time that an African American artistic movement called the Black Arts movement (or Black Arts era) was winding to a close.

Dee is the central character in a number of ways in "Everyday Use," I believe, and one of her most important roles is to represent the changes and conflicts that have developed within African American communities. Between 1900 and 1940, huge numbers of American blacks had moved from the South to the North and from the country to the city. In the North, new identities were forged, including ones grounded in a new sense of what it meant to be a thinking black person. Works written by blacks in the New Negro and Harlem Renaissances through the Black Arts movement (and later) fairly frequently contrast the lives of American blacks in the North and South. Like Dee, a number of African Americans developed a new affinity for all things from black Africa and often developed militant identities and practices in a deliberate move to shake off the various legacies and enduring symbols of slavery or white domination (Western names, straightened hair, etc.)

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

The short story "Everyday Use" is about a low income black family.  The mother and one of the daughters are uneducated.  The yard is made of hard clay and serves as an extended living room.  Hard clay was often evident is southern towns.   The family home is small and farm like and the mother works as hard as any man.  It is a rural setting.  The mother does not look white men in the face.  She has been oriented not to engage in this behavior.  Church and spiritual music are a strong part of the character's lives.

 "I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man."

"I never had an education myself."

"Of the house: It is three rooms, just like the one that burned, except the roof is tin; they don't make shingle roofs any more."

Dee is the escape for the family from this life and culture.  She was educated at a college away from the town.  She lives in a city where she has become a part of the "New culture."  As the daughter that has stepped out of the traditional culture, she serves as the hope for a different future.

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