Everyday Use Summary
by Alice Walker

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Everyday Use Summary

"Everyday Use" portrays the family reunion of a mother and her two very different daughters: quiet, traditional Maggie and educated, opinionated Dee.

  • Mama and Maggie wait in the yard for Dee, who left home to attend college. When Dee arrives, Mama is surprised to see that she and the man who accompanies her are wearing traditional African clothes. Dee explains that she has embraced her African roots. 
  • Dee plans to take the quilts made by her grandmother to display as examples of traditional art. However, Mama refuses and instead gives them to Maggie, for whom the quilts hold sentimental and practical value.

Summary

Mama and Maggie are awaiting the return of Dee—Mama’s second daughter and Maggie’s sister. Dee prompts feelings of both awe and fear in Maggie and apprehension in Mama. Maggie, particularly, feels as drawn to her sister’s glamor and worldliness as she feels judged by it. Mama predicts that when Dee arrives, Maggie will stand in corners, “homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs.” Worse, Maggie holds her chin to her chest and averts her gaze—a tendency that she has had since their first house burned down ten to twelve years before. Mama recalls how Dee looked pleased to see the first house, which she loathed, burn to the ground. Mama imagines that when Dee sees the new house—three rooms with a tin roof—she’ll want to tear it down, too.

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Dee wanted nice things—better clothes and a better life, afforded by education. With the help of her church, Mama raised enough money to send Dee to school in Augusta. Dee tried to impart what she had learned to Mama and Maggie, but she quickly grew impatient with them.

When Dee drives up, Maggie tries to shuffle quickly out of the house. Mama catches her and orders her back. Dee is accompanied by a man with a large Afro and a beard that looks “like a kinky mule tail.” Dee is just as astonishing a sight. She is wearing a yellow and orange dress, gold earrings, and many bracelets. She, too, has an Afro. She and the strange man greet Mama and Maggie with words that neither can understand. Before Mama can rise, Dee tells her to remain where she is on the porch. Dee then snaps several Polaroids of Mama and the house, of Maggie, and of a cow that has come to nibble grass in the pasture that is their yard. Meanwhile, Dee’s male companion tries to give Maggie the “soul shake,” with no success.

Dee reintroduces herself to her mother and sister as Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo and declares “Dee” dead, due to Wangero’s refusal to be named after those who have oppressed her. Mama reminds her that she was named after her aunt Dicie, or “Big Dee”—Mama’s sister—who was named after Grandma Dee. After some practice with pronunciation, Mama and Maggie are able to pronounce Dee’s new name. Mama has a harder time with the name of Dee’s companion. In the end, he settles on having her call him Hakim-a-barber. Mama wonders whether he and Dee are married, but she decides against asking.

The four of them sit and eat collard greens, pork, sweet potatoes, and cornbread. Hakim-a-barber refuses to touch the pork, which he declares unclean, but Wangero heartily devours everything. She then gets to admiring the home furnishings—the bench on which she sits and the churn and dasher in the corner. She decides to take the churn and dasher. She plans to use the churn as a centerpiece for her alcove table and promises to “think of something...

(The entire section is 826 words.)