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The social conflict in Walker's classic story is between different African American identities. Mrs. Johnson and her daughter Maggie represents a kind of social and historical continuity, while her daughter Dee represents the attempt to take conscious control of racial identity common in the period the story was written. (This story was published in 1973, and the sixties and seventies saw tremendous upheaval in African American identity.)
As you would want to see in a good story, many of the literary devices used in this story support and illustrate this story. The biggest of these devices is symbolism. The quilts become symbolic of the clash between identities. Dee wants the quilts to display, as a kind of folk art. Maggie, by contrast, would use the quilts. What is a kind of art for Dee is something her mother and sister use every day (which gives the story its title).
Another literary device used is irony, when Mrs. Johnson mistakes the greeting "Asalamalakim" for the name of the man with Dee. This generates some quiet humor through that section, which is based around the conflict between identities.
Finally, the story starts with an extended internal monologue on the mother's part, which introduces some of the conflict between Dee and her mother.
The irony in the short story "Everyday Use" is that Dee tries to escape her true heritage for one she knows little about. Dee has changed her name that had been in the family for years. Dee is now Wangero, an African name. She has left behind her precious heritage and embraced a new identity. She wears African clothes and African jewelry. She wants to rid herself of her oppressors. She feels that any attachment to her true heritage is to be reminded of her oppressors. Ironically, Dee longs for the quilts to keep as an heirloom. She is not as detached as she may think or pretend to be.
The quilts symbolize the bond that has been passed on through the generations. Mama respects this bond and embraces her heritage as a proud Southern black woman. The quilts were made by family members and passed down through the generations. The quilts are symbolic of family ties and the deep cultural traditions of strong black women like Mama. This story captures the legacy that Dee is trying to forget:
“Everyday Use” focuses on the bonds between women of different generations and their enduring legacy, as symbolized in the quilts they fashion together. This connection between generations is strong, yet Dee’s arrival and lack of understanding of her history shows that those bonds are vulnerable as well.
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