Mama and Dee/Wangero have different ideas about personal development in “Everyday Use.” What are they? What are the consequences of their differences? Also, how would the story be different if it were told from Dee/Wangero’s perspective?  

In “Everyday Use,” Mama and her daughter Dee/Wangero see personal development differently in regard to individual fulfillment, family responsibility, and what constitutes heritage. Mama’s responsibility to her daughters kept her close to home, and she values immediate family and local cultural influences. Dee’s desire to broaden her horizons and to reach her fullest potential sent her north to school. As the narrator, Wangero might seem more sensitive and less critical than her mother presents her as being.

Expert Answers

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In her story “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker makes the character of Mama the narrator as one of her two adult daughters comes home for a visit. Wangero, formerly called Dee, has left their Southern town and gone north to school. The other daughter, Maggie, lives at home with her mother, who implies that Maggie never wanted to continue her education or move away. Mama’s narrative clearly conveys that she and Wangero have different ideas about personal development. For Mama, responsibility for family is paramount; she has devoted herself to raising the girls. She does not understand Wangero’s need to expand her perspectives and develop her intellect, skills, and cultural knowledge. Wangero, who had always been curious and ambitious, has become very interested in African heritage.

Using Mama as the narrator, Walker presents her critical stance toward the prodigal daughter. The mother is unhappy about her daughter changing her name, for example, as Dee was a family name. She values the craft items, such as a quilt, for the personal connections to the individual relatives who made them, and cannot understand that Wangero—who has taken an African name—values them in a more abstract way, as folk art.

A change of narrator to Wangero could provide perspective on what she has learned and on the development of her relationship with the young man with whom she has traveled home. In addition, Wangero could explain if her mother’s critical attitude and apparent favoritism toward Maggie influenced her decision to move away.

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