Who are Hakim-a-barber and John Thomas and what do the names suggest? this is from "Everyday use"

Expert Answers
Rebecca Owens eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hakim-a-barber is a mispronunciation of the Black-Muslim greeting "Asalamalakim," which Dee's mother confuses for her elder daughter's new boyfriend's name. Dee has returned home with this person who appears to be a part of the Black Power movement based on his dress and long "hair to his navel." He rejects the types of foods, like collard greens and pork, that are traditional to African-American homes.

Probably the most significant thing about Hakim-a-barber is the mispronunciation of his name. Mrs. Johnson does not understand the Black nationalist ideas that he represents. Her mispronuncition of his name highlights the obvious gap between him and rural African-American culture.

John Thomas, "(who has mossy teeth in an earnest face),"is the man that Mrs. Johnson imagines Maggie will probably marry. He is barely mentioned other than the fact that whenMaggie marries him, Mrs. Johnsonsupposes shewill "be free to sit here and I guess just sing church songs to myself.

John Thomas probably represents a couple of things:

  • Mrs. Johnson's anxiety about being alone in her old age
  • Thomas, whose name is common and familiar in this culture,is a part of the rural African-American lifestyle. His "mossy teeth" might connote the less-than-desirable aspects of this poor life, but his "earnest face" connotes honesty--a what you see is what you get quality to his character. He may not be as interesting as Hakim, but he is real.
bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hakim-a-barber is Dee's boyfriend who comes with her to visit. His appearance and his name reflect that he identifies with the black power movement. He represents the younger generations of blacks who wanted to get in touch with their African roots by wearing their hair in a certain style and changing their names to reflect their African heritage.

John Thomas is the man that Maggie is going to marry. His common name reflects the African Americans living in rural areas who are traditional in their thinking.They are more concerned with the efforts of just making a living on a daily basis rather than the black nationalist ideas of African Americans living in the city.

These two minor characters represent Mama and Maggie's traditional life compared to Dee's "new" life. The main theme of the story is how a person understands his present life in relation to the traditions of his people and culture. Dee's confused about her heritage and expresses it by rejecting her American name. Mama thinks of Dee's name as symbolic of family unity.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One other point is interesting in regard to Walker's choice of "Wangero" as signifying Dee's new African identity (as opposed to her identity with her family):  the name was given to Walker by Africans during her trip there in the 1960s.  Also, she uses the same name for herself in //Once,// her first book of poetry published in 1968.  "Everyday Use" was published in 1973 as part of collection of short stories which she titled //In Love and Trouble:  Stories of Black Women.// 

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hakim-a-barber is Wangero's (Dee's) black muslim boyfriend. John Thomas is the man her sister, Maggie, is to marry.Hakim is an arabic or African name, John Thomas is a common English name (both first and last).

Wangero is attracted to Hakim because he represents the ethnic "other" that she longs to be. John Thomas, on the other hand, reminds her of the paternalistic, oppressive European ties from which she, erroneously or not, is trying to escape.