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"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker presents three characters in turmoil. Mama or Mrs. Johnson narrates the story concerning her daughters and the interaction amid the family. Her oldest daughter Dee is coming for a visit after being away at school. The other daughter Maggie, who is crippled, lives with her mother. Much of the story is Mama's recollection of events that have brought the family to the day of this visit.
The breakdown of the plot---
Maggie and Mama wait in the yard for Dee to arrive. Both of them are nervous because they perceive Dee as better than they are although no one voices that opinion.
From Mama's information, the reader learns that Dee was never happy at home. Maggie was burned in a home fire. Dee seems to look down at Maggie and her mother. The church paid for Dee to go to college.
It is also evident that Mama is proud of Dee and her intelligence and looks.
Dee arrives with her boyfriend wearing an "African outfit" and sporting gold earrings. She has changed her name to an African name Wangero. Dee was named after her grandmother, so to drop the name was to drop part of her heritage. To Mama, Wangero says that "Dee" is dead.
They eat a home cooked mean together.
Mama finally realizes that Dee has come back for more than just a visit. She wants to have some of the things that have been made or used in the family for generations. When Mama discovers that Dee merely wants to use them as decorations to prove her African heritage, Mama does not like the idea.
Finally, when Dee wants the homemade quilts that the Grandmother Dee and she made, Mama tells her "no" for the first time. She has promised the quilts to Maggie, and they are hers. Dee makes the remark that Maggie will ruin them by using them everyday.
Maggie offers to give the quilts to Dee. However, Mama will not allow Dee to take part of her family legacy just to show off and decorate her apartment. If she ruins them, they will make more.
Maggie remembers when the quilts were made, and the importance of them to the family.
Dee angrily gathers herself and tells Maggie that she needs to learn about her heritage. She also advises her to make something of herself.
When Mama looks at Maggie and realizes that this daughter is the one who needs her and loves her, she realizes that Maggie appreciates her mother and the real family heritage. The story ends with the mother for the first time showing Maggie affection. The two of them sit down in the front yard and begin to dip snuff.
The story suggests that looking for a person's heritage should begin at home with the family from which a person comes. Black heritage does go back to Africa, but most of the black families can find their heritage back to the slave days. Begin with the family first and then go beyond.
The following is a summary of Everyday Use by Alice Walker from eNotes' study guide. You can find the full study guide at the link below.
"The story opens as the two women await a visit from the older daughter, Dee, and a man who may be her husband—her mother is not sure whether they are actually married. Dee, who was always scornful of her family’s way of life, has gone to college and now seems almost as distant as a film star; her mother imagines being reunited with her on a television show such as “This Is Your Life,” where the celebrity guest is confronted with her humble origins. Maggie, who is not bright and who bears severe burn scars from a house fire many years before, is even more intimidated by her glamorous sibling.
To her mother’s surprise, Dee arrives wearing an ankle-length, gold and orange dress, jangling golden earrings and bracelets, and hair that “stands straight up like the wool on a sheep.” She greets them with an African salutation, while her companion offers a Muslim greeting and tries to give Maggie a ceremonial handshake that she does not understand. Moreover, Dee says that she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.” Dee’s friend has an unpronounceable name, which the mother finally reduces to “Hakim-a-barber.” As a Muslim, he will not eat the pork that she has prepared for their meal.
Whereas Dee had been scornful of her mother’s house and possessions when she was younger (even seeming happy when the old house burned down), now she is delighted by the old way of life. She takes photographs of the house, including a cow that wanders by, and asks her mother if she may have the old butter churn whittled by her uncle; she plans to use it as a centerpiece for her table. Then her attention is captured by two old handmade quilts, pieced by Grandma Dee and quilted by the mother and her own sister, known as Big Dee. These quilts have already been promised to Maggie, however, to take with her into her new marriage. Dee is horrified: “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she says, “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”
Although Maggie is intimidated enough to surrender the beloved quilts to Dee, the mother feels a sudden surge of rebellion. Snatching the quilts from Dee, she offers her instead some of the machine-stitched ones, which Dee does not want. Dee turns to leave and in parting tells Maggie, “It’s really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live you’d never know it.” Maggie and her mother spend the rest of the evening sitting in the yard, dipping snuff and 'just enjoying.'"
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