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What is the theme of the short story 'Everyday Use' by Alice Walker?

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trenda | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 10, 2007 at 12:15 AM via web

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What is the theme of the short story 'Everyday Use' by Alice Walker?

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renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted November 10, 2007 at 12:23 AM (Answer #1)

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Family heritage and materialism are intertwined themes in this story. Dee wants things from her childhood home for their monetary value and for the status of owning valuable "objects".

Maggie loves and wants them because they represent generations of family and history, not for how much they are worth in dollars.

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted November 10, 2007 at 1:59 AM (Answer #2)

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The question of identity as it pertains to African-American women in the 1960s and 1970s (as  well as now) is an important theme in the short story. The quilts represent generations of Johnson women, a series of mother-daughter relationships that have constructed identities through various conditions. The quilts are art as well, art crafted by women from one generation to the next, signifying that art is grounded in a community of women through relationships, and by passing on this art, they also pass on a shared identity of their unique African (and American) culture.  Dee's name change shows her wanting to go back behind this immediate history and identity to an imagined one which is imagined rather than real, one that ignores all that quilting represents in this family. In trying to get to her "roots" as an African-American woman, to claim an identity that is "African," she not only denigrates the relationships of women that construct who she is but also "buys into" a false identity (according to the author) manufactured as a fad rather than based on lived lives.

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