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So you’re going to teach Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic short story has been a mainstay of English classrooms for decades. While it has its challenging spots—such as an unreliable narrator—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying “Everyday Use” will give them unique insight into characterization, conflict, and important themes surrounding identity and personal empowerment. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1973
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9-12
  • Approximate Word Count: 2,200
  • Author: Alice Walker
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American Fiction
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society
  • Narration: First-Person
  • Setting: Rural American South, 1960s
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Unreliable Narrator, Characterization
  • Mood: Conversational, Reminiscent, Amused

Texts that Go Well with “Everyday Use”

The Color Purple (1982), by Alice Walker, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that explores the life of Celie, a poor black girl living in the South. Celie survives incest and abuse, taking control of her destiny when and where she can and recording her story in epistolary form. The Color Purple develops many of the themes present in “Everyday Use” in a full-length novel.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, is a 1937 novel often heralded as one of the great novels in the American canon. The story follows Janie Crawford, a biracial girl in the American South, as she matures through three marriages at the turn of the 20th century. Having survived physical threats, misogyny, and jealousy, Janie returns home and tells her friend Phoeby about her life. Alice Walker celebrates Hurston’s novel for its portrayal of the lives of women of color in the United States.

Song of Solomon (1977), by Toni Morrison, is a coming-of-age novel that tells the story of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, a man from the fictitious town of Mercy, Michigan. His adventures lead him into an exploration of his ancestry, revealing several generations of black American history. Like Walker’s story, Song of Solomon is concerned with the topics of black American heritage, the fraught dynamics of family, and the racial tensions of mid-century American society. Song of Solomon played a significant role in Morrison’s earning the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965 just after Malcolm X’s assassination. Coauthored with journalist Alex Haley, the memoir explores Malcolm X’s childhood in Michigan, his imprisonment, education, and experience as the face of the Nation of Islam during the Civil Rights Movement. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a pivotal, moving story of one man who confronted injustice and fought to change history.

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward, is a 2011 novel about a working-class black American family in Mississippi as they survive the days before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. The story draws on mythological allusions to cover similar thematic terrain as “Everyday Use,” as it considers the importance of parenting and adolescent social hierarchies from the perspective of Esch, a fifteen-year-old girl.

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Key Plot Points