In "Everyday Use," how would the story change if the setting and characters were changed to reflect the people you know and the place where you live?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the hallmarks of a good piece of literature is that it is one that possesses core messages that allow it to be transplanted from one culture and one time period to another. Even though some aspects of this excellent short story, such as Dee's adoption of her traditional African heritage and name change, are very strongly linked to a particular geographical area and time period, the story basically deals thematically with the relationship between a mother and her two very different daughters. The central issue with Dee is of course the way that she is ashamed of her roots and does everything she can to leave them as soon as possible, as Mama remembers in the way that she used to try and "educate" her and Maggie:

She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks' habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't necessarily need to know.

Note how this quote makes it clear how Mama thinks Dee "assumed" the ideas and thoughts of the education she was exposed to rather than sincerely believed them. Phrases such as "make-believe" and "other folks' habits" strongly indicates that Dee, ashamed of her poverty and humble origins, tries to adopt the ideas of those above her socially in order to rise socially herself. This is where the conflict within this family lies, and this is something that would transplant itself anywhere, even to my context in 21st century Britain. Themes of identity and family difficulties are universal and are just as relevant now and in any geographical location as they were when Walker wrote this story. The only difference would be the way that Dee embraces her traditional African past, as this is clearly something that is more rooted in time and place.

Read the study guide:
Everyday Use

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question