How does the point of view of the characters in "Everyday Use" influence the reader?
Without doubt, Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is her most anthologized story. In fact, Barbara Christian has written an entire book of essays on this very story, entitled Everyday Use, contending that it
...placed African-American women's voices at the center of the narrative, an unusual position at the time.
This story, rich in humor and sentiment, told from the point of view of the mother resonates with Walker's response to her contemporaries' desire to speak for all African-Americans in the 1970s in terms of the African-nationalist movement. And yet, in an interview, Alice Walker responded to questions about her story by saying that the three women in the narrative all represent different parts of herself: Dee, the photographer, as the modern artist, Maggie, the quilt maker, as the traditional woman artist, and the mother as narrator, the recorder of the African-American experience.
Upon the arrival of Dee and her companion, the mother's mispronunciation of the adopted African names of her daughter and the boyfriend ridicules the movement's encouragement of new identity. Rejecting the name Dee, the daughter wishes to be called what the mother pronounces as "Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo," telling her mother that she has changed her name because she cannot "bear...any longer being named after the people who oppressed me." Pointing to the ridiculousness of this action, the mother counters, "You know as well as me you was named after your aunt Dicie"; the daughter's reasoning is proven irrational and a rejection of her family history.
Further, Wangero's desire to take some of the family heirlooms, such as the butter churn and the quilts, to be put on display as mere art objects also points to Dee's rejection of the history of her family and her attempt to silence the ancestry of her family. With her soft-spoken observation that "Aunt Dee's first husband whittle the dash" of the churn and her quiet dignity as she tells her mother that Dee may have the quilts ("I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts"), Maggie, on the other hand, exhibits a worthy appreciation for the humanity of her ancestors and the part of themselves that went into their creations.
As she listens, Mama takes a critical look at Maggie, thinking how it was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught the girl how to quilt. As the scarred sister looks at Dee with "something like fear but she wasn't mad," the mother narrates,
This was Maggie's portion. This was the way she knew God to work.
When I looked at her like that 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 and I get happy and shout.
With sudden emotion, Mama hugs Maggie and takes her into the room, snatching the quilts from Wangero, then dumping them onto Maggie's lap as she orders Dee to take a couple of the others. Clearly, Mama is impressed with the integrity and quiet dignity of Maggie as opposed to the fashionable pretenses of Dee in her adopted identity and her lack of appreciation for the traditions of their family. Thus, the mother's point of view places each character in time and place, and as she records what each has said and done, the three characters do, indeed, represent various parts of the African-American woman's experience. Decidedly, however, Walker underscores the importance of traditional roles of women over those that are more radical in nature.
The story of Everyday Use by Alice Walker is told by 'Mama' in the first person point of view. Mama is the protagonist. Through this choice of point of view, we can see the discontent Mama has towards herself. It also gives us a very limited idea of the plot and what is going on.