In her short story "Everyday Use," how does Alice Walker draw on her own life experiences?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” involves many parallels with Walker’s own life, including the following:

  • Walker was born and grew up in the countryside in Georgia; “Everyday Use” is set in the rural south.
  • Walker’s own official biography declares that Walker was “particularly close to her mother,” a mother who displayed qualities of “fearlessness” (see link below). The mother in “Everyday Use” displays fearlessness near the end of the story and is especially close to her daughter Maggie.
  • When Walker was a young girl, she was accidentally shot in her right eye by a BB gun and lost her vision from the disfigurement in that eye. The accident also damaged Walker’s psyche, making her feel sad and alienated. Similarly, in the story, Maggie suffers a scarring burn in a fire. She is described as feeling

homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eying her [attractive] sister with a mixture of envy and awe . . . .

  • Walker describes herself as having had an ambivalent relationship with her brothers, in much the same way that Maggie has an ambivalent relationship with her sister Dee.
  • Walker’s mother was intelligent enough to help organize a local school, and the mother in “Everyday Use” also reveals solid intelligence, even though she is not highly educated in any formal sense.
  • Walker attended college and became well-educated. During her time away from home, she was exposed to broader cultural experiences than she had enjoyed in the rural south.  The same is true of Dee in “Everyday Use.”
  • Walker’s first marriage was to a man (a white Jewish person) whose background was significantly different from her own. Likewise, when Dee visits her childhood home, she is accompanied by a man (apparently a man from Africa) whom Dee’s mother comically describes as follows:

The short stocky fellow with the hair to his navel is all grinning and he follows up with "Asalamalakim, my mother and sister!"

  • In general, Walker resembles both Maggie and Dee.  She resembles Maggie because of her strong connection to her “roots” in the black rural south, and she resembles Dee because she has lived much of her life in places other than the south and in financially comfortable and even “elite” environments. Walker’s clear sympathy for Maggie, as well as her clear disdain for Dee, may imply that she wants to maintain her close affiliation with her nurturing cultural roots.