What should a reader know about the story "Everyday Use"?  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Regarding Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," it is certainly important to be aware of the author's interests. Two such interests that prevail in this story are as follows:

  • The complex experiences of black women

Exemplified in the family reunion, there is a conflict between two definitions of the family heritage. When the sister who has moved away and obtained a college education arrives, she announces that "Dee is dead" and she has a new name.  Following the claim of Malcolm X that blacks must shed their white names and find their own identities, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo has taken an African name and divorces herself from anything connected to the "oppressors."  She takes photos of various objects in the house, considering them now as folk art and nothing connected directly to her life.

On the other hand, Maggie, who is uneducated and lives at home with her mother, feels as her mother does about the butter churn and the quilts:  she wishes to make "everyday use" of them and cherish them as something made by her grandmother Dee. Wangero argues,

"But they're priceless!...."Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags.  Less than that!

Then, when Maggie tells her older sister that she can remember her grandmother without the quilts and is willing to relinquish them, it is then that the mother realizes Maggie is deserving of them because of her deeper understanding of the family heritage.

I did something I had never done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged on into the room, snatced the quilts out of Miss Wangero's hands and dumped them into Maggie's lap.

Maggie is speechless with gratitude.

  • The quilt as metaphor

The quilt, made from scraps of a Civil War uniform, old shirts and blankets, dresses of Grandma Dee, is a metaphor for the weaving of scraps together into a beautiful whole. In her essay, "The Quilting Metaphor in 'Everyday Use'," Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton writes,

Quilting symbolizes the process out of which the unimportant and meaningless may be transformed into the valued and useful.

Thus, Walker endows the act of quilting with great significance. For, it is the repeated and daily acts of women who hold together families and memory.  The act of quilting is also the artistic expression of those with few outlets for this creative act. Thus, there is something living yet in the quilt of "Everyday Use," and it should not be considered an artifact merely to be displayed.

 

 

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