Why does Dee change her name in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use?"
There had been a fire ten or twelve years before that had harmed Mrs. Johnson's daughter, Maggie. However, as the house burned, the narrator saw her other daughter's face and the hate she had for their home. As the story goes on, the reader comes to understand that it was what it meant living in such a house that Dee hated, more than the house itself. Dee would never be satisfied to live in such a place, or have the meager life her mother and sister have.
Mrs. Johnson has had a difficult life. There is no mention of having a husband to help her on her homestead. Quite matter-of-factly, she acknowledges (with some pride) that she can "kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man." One year she "knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledge hammer..." She had the beef hung up to cure before the sun went down. Not a complainer, she has done what needed to be done. Mrs. Johnson is a realist; she is also comfortable with who she is.
Maggie is almost the shadow of a person.
"How do I look, Mama?" Maggie says, showing just enough of her thin body enveloped in pink skirt and red blouse for me to know she's there almost hidden by the door.
Her mother describes Maggie's behavior as similar to that of a dog that might have been hit by a car, now lame and looking for someone to be kind to her. She is quiet and unassuming. She has the posture of one who hopes not to be noticed.
Dee, on the other hand, has been a force to be reckoned with since she was young. She is more attractive than her sister. She was the one to leave home after her mother and the church put together the funds to send her to school in Augusta. She learned, then and forced her learning on her uneducated mother and sister—
...forcing words, lies, other folks' habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant under her voice.
Dee showed no desire to help her mother or sister advance through learning, but wants to control them with what she knew. It demonstrates how far removed the life she lives is from that of her past and her family.
Dee wanted nice things. Her clothes, though gifted to her mother and worn before, were transformed so that Dee was proud to wear them, as they transformed her from a country girl to a woman with prospects:
At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was.
Now Dee comes to visit and makes a dramatic entrance. Not only is she wearing long and flowing African garb and real gold jewelry at her ears and on her wrists, but she also carries herself like a princess. She treats her mother's house and homestead like they are part of a museum rather than the remnants of a life she once lived herself. She takes a photo of the place, and another of her mother and sister. Like an outsider looking in, she has no connection with these people or her ancestors.
Dee arrives with grace and style. With her is a stocky man who tells...
(The entire section contains 3 answers and 1,241 words.)
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Dee has changed her name into the African Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because her old name "Dee" reminded her of her white colonial masters. Outwardly her reason for changing her name might be politically correct but its certainly not culturally correct. Her entire past is negated because of this name change. Dee's mother traces the family history of that name saying, "though, in fact, I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches." Maggie, however, never changes her name and she treasures the quilt not as a mere showpiece but as a treasure trove of the collected memories - both painful and pleasant - of the cultural past of her ancestors.