Is Dee from "Everyday Use" a wholly unsympathetic character? Why or why not?

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To be able to properly answer this question, it is important to consider the perspective from which the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is written. The story is told in first person by Ma, Dee's mother. Ma lives in a humble cabin with Maggie, Dee's younger...

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To be able to properly answer this question, it is important to consider the perspective from which the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is written. The story is told in first person by Ma, Dee's mother. Ma lives in a humble cabin with Maggie, Dee's younger sister, who is somewhat simple-minded and has been disfigured by scars from a fire that burned down their previous home. Dee, the older, attractive sister, has moved out to go to school and is coming for a visit with her boyfriend (or husband; this is not specified).

Maggie regards her sister "with a mixture of envy and awe." Ma, although she doesn't really understand Dee, loves her deeply. We can see this clearly in Ma's daydream in which she fantasizes that "I am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake." In reality Ma is a big, dark-skinned woman. Part of the difficulty that Ma has relating to Dee is due to the difference between her fantasy and the reality of the situation.

Ma remembers how Dee always was strong-willed and wanted nice things. She was independent and had a style of her own. None of these attributes are faults in themselves; they only seem out of place in the rough, poverty-stricken environment of their lives.

Dee comes for her visit wearing plenty of jewelry and a bright dress. She introduces her boyfriend and announces that she has changed her name. She is cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of the food as they share a meal. She asks to take various items such as a churn top and a dasher so that she can display them in her home. Ma balks, though, when she asks for some quilts that Ma has already promised to Maggie.

As mentioned above, whether Dee is sympathetic or not is a matter of perspective. From Maggie and Ma's humble perspective, Dee comes across as unsympathetic because they have spent their lives in rural poverty and have never known anything else. Dee, however, has managed to extricate herself from the poverty of her youth. Instead of being oppressed by her cultural background, she had learned to take pride in it. There is nothing wrong with her wearing jewels and bright clothing, changing her name, and wanting to display items that remind her of her past. She is certainly not wholly unsympathetic. In fact, she is a very sympathetic character that many people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps can relate to. It's true that her change in attitude has caused her to be less sensitive to how Ma and Maggie feel, but this is something that can hopefully be worked out in time as she returns for future visits.

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