Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“Everyday Use” is narrated by a woman who describes herself as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.” She has enjoyed a rugged farming life in the country and now lives in a small, tin-roofed house surrounded by a clay yard in the middle of a cow pasture. She anticipates that soon her daughter Maggie will be married and she will be living peacefully alone.
The story opens as the two women await a visit from the older daughter, Dee, and a man who may be her husband—her mother is not sure whether they are actually married. Dee, who was always scornful of her family’s way of life, has gone to college and now seems almost as distant as a film star; her mother imagines being reunited with her on a television show such as “This Is Your Life,” where the celebrity guest is confronted with her humble origins. Maggie, who is not bright and who bears severe burn scars from a house fire many years before, is even more intimidated by her glamorous sibling.
To her mother’s surprise, Dee arrives wearing an ankle-length, gold and orange dress, jangling golden earrings and bracelets, and hair that “stands straight up like the wool on a sheep.” She greets them with an African salutation, while her companion offers a Muslim greeting and tries to give Maggie a ceremonial handshake that she does not understand. Moreover, Dee says that she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because “I couldn’t bear it any...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The speaker in this story is the mother of two very different girls, Maggie and Dee. Maggie has stayed home with her mother and lived an old-fashioned, traditional life, while Dee has gone off to school and become sophisticated. Dee comes home with a new name, Wangero, and a new boyfriend; she claims that she wants to take the family heirlooms along as a part of claiming her true identity as an African American. She especially wants the quilts, which she plans to display on the wall as artworks because of their fine handiwork. Maggie, on the other hand, had been promised the quilts for her marriage; she loved them because they reminded her of the grandmother who made them. Dee feels entitled to them, but the speaker chooses to give them to Maggie—not to show but, as Dee says scornfully, “for everyday use.” Dee sweeps off with her other trophies, and the mother and Maggie remain together, enjoying a heritage that is experience and memory, not things to put on display.
“Everyday Use” is probably Walker’s most frequently anthologized short story. It stresses the mother-daughter bond and defines the African American woman’s identity in terms of this bond and other family relationships. It uses gentle humor in showing Dee/Wangero’s excess of zeal in trying to claim her heritage, and her overlooking of the truth of African American experience in favor of what she has read about it. Dee has joined the movement called Cultural Nationalism, whose...
(The entire section is 326 words.)
Alice Walker's modern classic "Everyday Use" tells the story of a mother and her two daughters' conflicting ideas about their identities and ancestry. The mother narrates the story of the day one daughter, Dee, visits from college and clashes with the other daughter, Maggie, over the possession of some heirloom quilts.
The story begins with the narrator, a "big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands" awaiting the homecoming of her daughter Dee, an educated woman who now lives in the city. Accompanying her is her younger daughter, Maggie, a shy girl who regards her sister with a "mixture of envy and awe." As they wait, the narrator reveals details of the family history, specifically the relationship between her two girls. A fire when they were children destroyed their first house and left Maggie badly scarred on her arms and legs. The mother's memory of the night the house burned defines her two daughters: Maggie "with her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little peppery flakes" and Dee "standing off under the sweet gum tree...[with] a look of concentration on her face as she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot chimney.''
Since the fire the two daughters have taken diverging paths. Maggie has a little education, but according to her mother, "she is not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by." She is, however, engaged to marry and will soon leave her mother's house. Dee, on...
(The entire section is 622 words.)