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Analysis of Alice Walker's "Everyday Use"

Updated on February 24, 2016

Everyday Sibling Rivalry

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is a short tale involving a black family living in what can be assumed to be the south. The story is told from the mother’s perspective. The focus is on her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. The story being told from the mother’s point of view gives the reader a better understanding of the contrast between the two siblings. Through her deep understanding of them, she shows the reader how even when people are from the same background they can still turn out to be completely different, all the while showing that financial success isn’t everything.

What is Success?

The mother describes her two daughters in very different ways, while giving the reader an insight into the psyche of her girls that they would not otherwise have. The older sister is considered the successful one. She went to college and changed her name as she recognizes her “culture,” yet she treated her mother and sister like they are things to be put in a museum. The mother comments on how when she takes pictures of them, Dee always makes sure to get the house in the picture. Dee has a condescending air to her that the narrator hints at, and dismisses at the same time, showing her subconscious understanding and conscious denial that her own flesh and blood would act in this manner (putting them on display). The mother states that when Dee used to read to her and Maggie that she never looked down on them, but the fact that she walks all over them shows the reader that maybe Dee that this isn’t the case. Maggie on the other hand is described as pathetic in a way. She always keeps her eyes on the ground and she shuffles her feet as she walks, showing her lack of confidence, the mother actually describes the way that Maggie walks by saying “have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog that was ran over by someone rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him?” (Walker). The mother states that Maggie has a sort of fear of her sister, and it is shown best in the scene with the quilt. The mother states that the quilts were meant for Maggie, as a wedding gift, yet Maggie chimes in that Dee can have them. The narrator then seems to notice how unfair the world has been to her younger daughter, and then stands up for the girl who never gets her way (to the point of her thinking it’s what she deserves).

Lets Talk Heritage

The older sister Dee is a shallow and is under the misconception that people can make up their heritage, and the younger sister who is considered the less fortunate of the two lives her heritage, which is what her sister is striving for. The mother begins the story by recalling the daydreams she had involving a talk show. She states that in her daydream she is what her daughter would want her to be, light skinned and thin. The reality is that she is a “large, big boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (Walker). Later in the story when she is being introduced to Dee (and her new name) and Dee’s assumed significant other (Hakim-a-barber) and Dee states that she didn’t want to be named after her oppressors, her mother simply says she’s not, Dee is a family name, and so a its part of their history. When the mother speaks of the other daughter Maggie she states that she is not bright and incredibly pretty (unlike Dee) and that Maggie is well aware of this, yet this daughter is not ashamed of who she is (although she seems to be incredibly shy). The mother has firm grasp on her heritage and it is exhibited when she tells the older daughter that she hopes that Maggie uses the quilts, because that’s what they were made for, showing yet another difference between the two sisters.

Lets Wrap It Up

This story is a perfect example of not knowing what you have. At the end of the tale Dee states, “you just don’t understand” (Walker) referring to their heritage, when in fact they live their heritage EVERYDAY, where as she puts it on display, and never truly understands it. She keeps the thing she claims to want far away (her history), where as they embrace it, obtaining a success all their own.


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