Everyday Use Analysis
by Alice Walker

Everyday Use book cover
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Everyday Use Analysis

  • Through the characters of Dee and Hakim-a-barber, Alice Walker explores Afrocentricity, which came into vogue in the 1960s alongside the establishment of the Black Panther Party and the Black Arts Movement.
  • While Dee embraces her African heritage, she rejects her family and upbringing as sources of shame. Ironically, self-sufficient Mama appears to be more liberated in terms of gender roles than Dee.
  • Mama projects her sense of not living up to Dee’s expectations onto Maggie, who represents the family history of poverty and self-defeat that Dee disdains. In the end, though, it is Maggie whom Mama deems worthy of inheriting the quilts.

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Analysis

Though Walker never names the place in which Mama and Maggie live, the reader learns very quickly, from the first paragraph, that this is a rural place in the South. The sense that it is a place where “the breezes never come” tells us that new things seldom occur there. Mama’s later mention of having sent Dee to school in Augusta reveals that Mama and Maggie live somewhere in Georgia. For this story, Walker likely drew from her own Georgian agrarian roots. Her parents were sharecroppers. Walker later received a scholarship for disabled children (a childhood accident rendered her blind in her right eye) and attended Spelman College in Atlanta before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

Like Dee, Walker had been a part of social justice movements. In the late 1960s, she joined the civil rights struggle and married Mel Leventhal, a white, Jewish attorney. The couple settled in Jackson, Mississippi, where their interracial marriage became an object of denunciation. In the early 1970s, Walker left Mississippi and her marriage and joined feminist circles, befriending Gloria Steinem.

Everyday Use” first appeared in Walker’s first short story collection, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973). By centering Black women in these stories, Walker announced her feminist sympathies. In “Everyday Use” she also explores the vogue of Afrocentricity. Maulana Ron Karenga had established Kwanzaa in 1966—the same year in which the Black Panther Party was established in Oakland; the year in which the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led by Stokely Carmichael, became decidedly radical; and the time in which Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka established the Black Arts Movement in the interest of bringing a uniquely Black aesthetic to literature and theater. During the 1960s, numerous African and Caribbean countries had declared independence from their European colonial rulers. African Americans learned about these movements and sometimes encountered African diplomats and university students in the US. This contact enriched their sensibility about what it meant to be Black. The character of Dee is meant to represent this shift in consciousness. The problem that Walker presents with the character is her wrongheaded belief that she must deny her mother and sister, who represent the poverty and backwardness that have been sources of shame for her, to prove that she is not a victim of racism.

Despite the appearance of Hakim-a-barber, whose character is intentionally undeveloped, there is a notable absence of men in “Everyday Use.” Men were the most visible figures of the Black Power movement....

(The entire section is 734 words.)