In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" There are two main characters: How they are different? What separates Dee and her sister? What roles do names or renaming of a character play throughout the...

In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use"

  1. There are two main characters: How they are different?
  2. What separates Dee and her sister?
  3. What roles do names or renaming of a character play throughout the story?
  4. What are the internal and internal conflicts characters faced in everyday
  5. What seems to be the author's attitude towards the main character?
Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" touches upon the universal themes of search for independent identity and generational rebellion with both humor and poignancy. As the mother narrates, the reader perceives the two daughters, Dee and Maggie, from her point of view. 

1. She describes her daughter Dee as having no "hesitation" in her nature; she would "always look anyone in the eye." Dee is lighter than Maggie "with nicer hair and a fuller figure." Unlike the bold Dee, Maggie is self-effacing, thin, and scared from burns.

She has been like this , chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle....

Dee always has wanted "nice things" and Maggie is satisfied with whatever she has. When Dee arrives she informs her family that she has changed her name and identity; she perceives her mother and sister as living in a servile past, while Maggie is content at home, using the "everyday things."

2. Dee and her sister are as different in personality as they are in appearance. Whereas Dee has gone away to school and become a part of a larger society and the Black Movement, Maggie has remained at home in a reclusive state. Dee scolds her sister,

"You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. It's really a new day for us.  But from the way you and Mama still live you'd never know it."

Maggie is willing to let Dee take the quilts that their grandmother has made. However, when her mother drops them into Maggie's lap, she smiles "a real smile, not scared." She enjoys her quiet victory.

Angered that her mother gives Dee the quilts, Wangero/Dee accuses the mother of not understanding her heritage. But, it is truly Maggie who does understand the love and time that Big Dee placed into the quilt.

3. The greatest separation between Dee/Wangero and her sister Maggie is in their perceptions and ideologies. Content in the old way of life with family, Maggie has no desire for change; on the other hand, Wangero has become part of the new Black Movement of which Malcolm X was a part; for it was he who declared that African-Americans should rid themselves of their white names. Wangero now perceives the butterchurn and the quilts as mere artifacts of an enslaved, deafeated, and dead culture.

4. By renaming herself Wangero, Dee has detached herself from her past, and by virtue of discarding her past, she has lost connection to her family and real heritage, as well. Her boyfriend is obviously a Black Muslim as he refuses to eat pork because it is unclean, and he does not eat collards, which are often called "soul food." Ironically, by embracing this new identity, Wangero feels that she has touched her true heritage; however, Mama feels that their heritage is in the quilts made from the clothing and blankets of their ancestors.

5. The obvious external conflict is between the new Dee, Wangero, and her idea of heritage. For, she wants to take the butter churn and the quilts to put them on display as artifacts of a former society. The mother is offended by this attitude, reflecting Alice Walker's own sense of quilting as a motif. For, the act of quilting is the connecting of one's roots and past with the present. Thus, the quilts that Wangero wants represent the conflict of progress with tradition (an external conflict).

The mother undergoes an internal conflict as she is reluctant to give Dee the butter churn after she looks at the place where hands had worn the dasher made from a tree where Big Dee and Stash had lived (her parents).

When Wangero asks for the quilts, the mother hears something fall in the kitchen, the the door slams. These sounds come from Maggie [internal conflict] who miserably assumes that Dee will get her way and take the quilts that she cherishes. But the mother suggests that she take some newer ones [external conflict]. When Wangero says that she wants them because they are "priceless," the mother wonders, "What would you do with them?" Wangero replies that she would put them on display: "Hang them." Then Maggie says in defeat,

"She can have them, Mama...."I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts."

As she looks at Maggie with her scarred hands and frightened look, the mother describes,

...something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet. Just like when I'm in church and the spirit of God touches me....

Then, she the mother grabs Maggie, pulls her into the room, snatches the quilts from Wangero's hands and "dumps them into Maggie's lap," telling her daughter to take others. Angered, Wangero tells her mother, ironically, that she does not understand her heritage. After she departs, the mother and Maggie just "sit and enjoy."

6. With this ending, the reader must conclude that Alice Walker sees the purpose of heirlooms is usage, not display. Truly, Walker gives voice to women and the rural Black South and its contributions. In a critical overview, it is written,

As a writer with black feminist insight, Walker gives voice in this story ''to an entire maternal ancestry often silenced by the political rhetoric of the period."

Like Mama, Walker is not impressed with the African-nationalist viewpoint.

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Everyday Use

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