Mama's Daughters In Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use," tells us a story of two daughters', Dee and Maggie Johnson, with different ideas about their identities and values. Dee a young woman who, in the course of a visit to the rural home she thinks she has outgrown, attempts unsuccessfully to divert some fine old quilts, earmarked for the dowry of a sister, into her own hands. Dee is Mrs. Johnson's oldest daughter, the one who has always been determined, popular, and successful. Maggie is her young sister who was severely burned in the house fire as a child. She is still lives with her mother in poverty, putting "priceless" objects to "everyday use." A similar view is expressed by Houston Baker and Charlotte Pierce-Baker, who writes, "A scarred and dull Maggie, who has been kept at home and confined to everyday offices, has but one reaction to the fiery and vivacious arrival of her sister." Dee despises her sister, her mother and the church that helped to educate her.
She is selfish, and walker focuses the reader's growing dislike for the heroine in her indifference to Maggie, the pathetic sister she seems prepared to ignore in a kind of moral triage. Maggie represents the multitude of black women who must suffer while the occasional lucky "sister" escapes the ghetto. Mama conjectures that: Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe. She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that "no" is a word the world never learned to say to her. (103) Mama, with grudging admiration remembers Dee as a fearless girl.
While Mama imagines herself unable to look at people in the eye, talking to them only "with one foot raised in flight," (103) Dee however, "would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature" (103). She goes on to say Dee is self-centered and demanding but also remembers this daughter as a determined fighter. Dee is concerned with style, but she will do whatever is necessary to improve her circumstance. For instance, when Dee wanted a new dress, she had to "make over" a green suit someone had given her mother. Maggie a victim of fear since she was burned by the fire, Mama describes her as "a lame animal, perhaps a dog" (103).
She says, "That is the way Maggie walks. She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire burned the other house to the ground" (104). The major difference between the two sisters is the understanding of heritage. More critics see Dee's education and her insistence on reading to Mama and Maggie as evidence of her separation from the lack of understanding of her family identity and heritage. Nancy Tute n, for instance argues that, in this story: Walker stresses not only the importance of language but also the destructive effects of its use... Rather than providing a medium for newfound awareness and for community...
verbal skills equip Dee to oppress and manipulate other and to isolate herself. When Dee changes her name to "Wang ero Leewanika Kemanjo" this shows how she rejected her family heritage. As she returns home she takes photographs and the churn lid, the dasher, and the quilts for purpose of display, remainders that she no longer has daily intercourse to live in such a house, care for such cow. She believes that one's heritage is something that one put on display if and when fashionable.
Maggie thinks heritage is an "everyday use", she values the same objects not for artistic value, but because the remind her of her loved ones. Dee admires the butter churn, and when Maggie says it was carved by their aunt's first husband "His name was Henry, but they called him Stash" (107). Dee responds that her sister's memory is like an elephant's. But Walker suggested that Maggie's elephant like memory for her loved ones and her appreciation for their handiwork is more genuine way to celebrate their heritage than Dee's "artistic" interest in removing there ordinary objects and displaying them. When Dee insists that Maggie would ruin Grandma's quilts by using them everyday, and hanging the quilts would be only way to preserve them, Maggie," like somebody used to never winning anything, or having any thing reserved for her," meekly replies "she can have them Mama, ...
I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts" (108) her mother finally recognized that she, not Dee is the daughter who understands heritage and the importance of connecting with one's ancestors. At the end of the story the quite, self conscious Maggie smiles, "a real smile, not scared," (109) while dismissing Dee as shallow and self- serving. Work Cited Baker, Houston and Charlotte Pierce-Baker. "Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker 'Everyday Use." The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Volume 21, No. 3, July, 1985. 706-20.
Exploring Short Stories. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in Student Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2004.
web Nancy. "Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use'," The Explicator, Volume 51, No. 2, Winter, 1993. 125-28. Exploring Short Stories. Online Edition.
Gale, 2003. Reproduced in Student Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2004. web Alice. "Everyday Use." Literature: An Introduction to Poetry, Fiction, and Drama. 9 th ed.
Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 2005. 102-9.