Who is Dee's boyfriend in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?
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That question is not as easy to answer as it might seem. The narrator in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" is our only source of information, and she's not neutral at all. She doesn't show a lot of interest in trying to understand the new generation of militant blacks who had, by the 1960s, begun to reject the legacy of slavery and seek out alternatives, including Black Islam. Part of this rejection of the legacies of slavery is the rejection of traditional Western (and, by implication, slave-holders') names.
The narrator's bias can be seen in several places in the story. For example, she tells us:
Well, soon we got the name out of the way. Asalamalakim had a name twice as long and three times as hard. After I tripped over it two or three times he told me to just call him Hakim-a-barber. I wanted to ask him was he a barber, but I didn't really think he was, so I didn't ask.
The reader doesn't get to hear the full name of Dee's friend and, unless the reader resists, is likely to adopt the narrator's biased view. "Asalamalakim" is a greeting, of course, not a name, and his full name is never given.
"Hakim-a-barber" may be as close as you'll get to the answer to your question.
In Everyday Use, Hakim-a-barber is Dee's significant other- boyfriend or husband. He goes with Dee when she returns home. Dee's mother calls him, Asalamalakim. She confuses this greeting of "peace be with you" as his name. Hakim-a-barber is her best guess at pronouncing what she believes to be his name. He is short with a long beard. Hakim-a-barber is a Black Muslim and considers himself a member of the black power movement. As a result, he does not partake in the foods and such that many feel is normal of African-American culture. He comes across as a little awkward since he desires to make a good impression on Dee's family. His presence and the confusion over his name, suggest that there is a struggle for those caught between African-American culture and way of life and the ideas spawned in part by the black power movement.
In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," Dee's boyfriend is "a short, stocky man...." with hair that is "...all over his head a foot long and hanging from his chin like a kinky mule tail." He greets the mother and Maggie with a Muslim salutation--"Asalamalakim"--that means "Peace be with you," according to the notes in the text I'm reading from. He is "all grinning" as he does so. He tries to shake hands with Maggie but Maggie's hand is all limp and he looks like he is trying to shake hands in a fancy way, or like he doesn't really know how to shake hands, according to the mother/narrator.
His name contains numerous syllables and the mother has trouble pronouncing it, so he tells her to just call him "Hakim-a-barber." He doesn't eat pork. This, together with the greeting he uses suggests he is Muslim.
What's most important about the boyfriend, though, is that he is a part of the new outlook that Dee has embraced. Her previous existence with her family was quaint, looking back on it now, and she wants souvenirs from her former life to display as artworks, but she has left it behind and become a new person. Her life growing up was never to her liking, as her mother tells the reader:
She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks' habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't necessarily need to know. Pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understand.
Dee's boyfriend is a part of her new world. The mother and Maggie show, however, when contrasted to Dee and her boyfriend, that they and their way of life have a dignity of their own, and they do not need to accept Dee's new way of life. The story defends traditional black families and traditional black values in America.
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