How did Alice Walker's early hardship influence her writing?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker and her family suffered a great many hardships. Her work often mirrors these difficulties. This is true in her short story "Everyday Use," in which the characters' lives share many similarities with Alice Walker's own life. 

Alice Walker was born in 1944 in Mississippi. She was born into a large family of eight children, and her parents were sharecroppers. Sharecropping was not very different from slavery. Sharecroppers labored extremely hard on land that wasn't their own for barely any money. Coupled with the Jim Crow laws of the segregated South, life would have been very difficult for Alice Walker growing up. 

Along with the difficulties of being the youngest of eight children born into extreme poverty, Alice suffered a life-altering injury when she was eight years old. Her brother shot her in the eye with a BB gun. When the eye healed, it developed a whitish film of scar tissue. Alice was convinced she was horribly disfigured, and isolated herself from others. This is around the time she began writing. 

When Alice grew up, she left home to attend college. She grew in knowledge beyond that of her family, causing a divide between Alice and her father. Their relationship became estranged. 

In her short story, "Everyday Use," the character of Dee has suffered burns in a fire that disfigures her, which was surely influenced by Alice's early injury. In the story, Mama doesn't have an education past the second grade. Walker's own parents were uneducated, too. When Dee returns to her childhood home, she has clearly been educated and grown beyond the humble lifestyle of her family. This parallels Walker's own life. 

The quilts that are referenced in this story were part of Walker's life, also. She describes her mom as a quilter who taught her the craft. She describes the first quilt she worked on this way: 

"[The first quilt] I worked on [was] the In Love and Trouble quilt. And I did that one when I was living in Mississippi. It was during a period when we were wearing African-inspired dresses. So all the pieces are from dresses I actually wore."

This shows that the mention of Dee (Wangero's) African-inspired clothing in the story also has an autobiographical component. The quilt that Dee covets in the story also has autobiographical components.

Perhaps most importantly, "Everyday Use" is a story of a young girl who leaves her family in order to find out who she is in the world, and that mirrors Walker's own life.