Everyday Use Critical Overview
by Alice Walker

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

When "Everyday Use" appeared in a 1973 collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, reviewers of the book recognized the uniqueness of Alice Walker's portrayals of African-American women's experiences. Jerry H. Bryant, for instance, described Walker in The Nation as a writer "probing for the hitherto undisclosed alpha and beta rays of black existence." Critics also enthused over Walker's artistic abilities, most agreeing with Barbara Smith, who wrote in Ms. magazine that "Walker's perceptions, style, and artistry ... consistently ... make her work a treasure, particularly for those of us whom her work describes." While "Everyday Use" was singled out for praise by several critics, it has since achieved great prominence within the opus of Walker's work. Several admiring articles have been written about it, and in 1994, Barbara Christian published Everyday Use, an entire book of essays built around this one story. As Christian wrote in the book's introduction, the story has come to be recognized as an exemplary, foundational piece for several of Walker's primary interests as a writer. She noted, for instance, that like many other works by Walker, it "placed African American women's voices at the center of the narrative, an unusual position at the time."

Telling African-American women's stones with honesty, and placing such previously unrecognized women on center stage to tell and act out their own stories, was a method Walker used to great success and acclaim in her 1982 novel, The Color Purple . Thanks in large part to Walker (who in turn gives much of the credit to Zora Neale Hurston), this narrative method, exemplified in "Everyday Use," has since become a standard technique for many black women writers, including Gloria Naylor, Tom Morrison, Terry McMillan, and Toni Cade Bambara. The story's central symbol of quilting also resonates beyond the story itself. Gathering loose bits of material into beautiful, meaningful quilts has long been...

(The entire section is 475 words.)