The short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is narrated by an African American woman known as Mama. She has two daughters, Dee and Maggie. Dee, an intelligent and attractive young woman, has gone off to school in Augusta and now lives with a Muslim who calls himself Hakim-a-barber. Maggie, who was disfigured by a fire that burned down their previous home, is slow and simple-minded. The story contrasts Dee's more academic and intellectual embracing of cultural heritage with Mama and Maggie's more practical outlooks.
"Everyday Use" focuses on a visit that Dee and Hakim make to Mama and Maggie. The first five words in the story set this up: "I will wait for her." Mama is speaking of waiting for Dee. While she waits, she imagines appearing on a famous TV show with Dee. In her daydream, Mama is slimmer, more attractive, and has a quick wit, while she confesses that in real life she is overweight, plain-looking, and speaks simply and slowly. Mama explains that Dee has always been bold, assertive, and appreciative of nice things.
When Dee arrives, she wears gold earrings, dangling bracelets, and a flamboyant dress, which Mama admits she likes. Her hair stands straight up. Through her appearance, she is attempting to manifest pride in her heritage. She takes Polaroid pictures of Mama, Maggie, and the house, and she announces that she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. She equates her old name with white oppression, even though Mama tries to explain that it has been handed down through generations of their family. After the meal, Dee claims various hand-made items around the house, such as the top of a butter churn and a dasher. However, her intention is not to use them but to display them as examples of craftsmanship. When she wants to take some hand-sewn quilts, though, Mama stops her, as they have already been promised to Maggie. Maggie offers to give them up, but Mama refuses to let her.
In the character of Dee, we see an African American woman who has left her humble, poverty-stricken origins and is attempting to come to terms with her past in a way that she can relate to with pride. It's not wrong for her to want to display items from her past as artwork. Her main fault is that she appears to lack empathy for Mama and Maggie's situation. Dee has managed to move on from the poverty of her roots, and she has a hard time understanding that Mama and Maggie are simply trying to survive. Things that Dee now considers interesting reminders of the past are still household items to be put to everyday use to Mama and Maggie.