“Everyday Use”, written by Alice Walker, is a beautiful short story exploring the concept of black heritage, which created great confusion among the Afro-American community in the segregated South in the sixties and the seventies. The writer uses her black characters to reflect their conflicting cultural views. These views create confusion in their modern life. A crisis of identity develops in them due to the opposing cultural pulls. Alice Walker uses the objects of everyday use in a house to show them as symbols of conflicts in the family. This paper is a critical analysis of the story and an analysis of the character Maggie It also tries to discover how well Walker brings out the sentiments of the Afro-Americans.
The objects of everyday use and the quilt as a symbol
Among the objects of everyday use in the story, the quilt stands as a symbol of heritage. “These old things was just done by me and Big Dee from some tops your grandma pieced before she died”, says Mama (Walker). By identifying Maggie with her grandma’s quilt, the writer highlights her acceptance of the past, her own roots. The quilt has an important place in the setting of the story. It is part of that house, and of that family. The debate in the story over the use of family quilts shows what Walker wants the readers to understand. The quilt for her is a symbol of ancestry. By identifying Maggie with this object of a quilt, an object of everyday use, Walker reinforces her attitude to the objects of cultural importance in a house. The quilt also shows Mama’s simplicity in her life. Apart from the things of everyday use, even the physical features of the characters stand for their heritage or modernity. Mama is also proud of the tough works she does in her house. Maggie is different. The burn injuries made her a “lame animal”. Her mother describes her: “That is the way my Maggie walks. She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on the ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground” (Walker). Maggie is very silent too. Her place in the story is mainly to serve as a contrast to her sister.
Cultural conflicts reflected through the disparities in the characters
Through various disparities in characters, Alice Walker demonstrates the impact of the cultural heritage on them. Mama says: “In real life, I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (Walker). Dee, who is a contrast to Maggie, prefers a pompously public life, but Maggie is shy and extremely self-conscious and quiet. She stands for sacredness, tradition, and true value. Dee’s love for publicity is shown by her desire to be accepted by her peers and to appear fashionable by carrying off the family’s items to her house. Mama says with regard to Dee’s courage, ‘Her eyelids would not flicker for minutes at a time’ (Walker). Dee wishes always to be fashionable, as is demonstrated by her schemes to cart away family items to her house. She wants to have African items because this is what the prevailing fashion dictates. Mama loves her house. She likes sitting outside: “It is not just a yard. It is like an extended living room” (Walker). Mama is very proud of her house, and Maggie finds it quite spacious enough. She enjoys everything which has the stamp of her past. Maggie is like her mother.
The story, thus, stands as a metaphor for the Afro-American cultural identity. Walker wants to show that culture should be completely integrated into one’s day-to-day life, not just erratically embrace it according to fads or individual whims. Mama and Maggie have embraced their culture in its totality, whereas Dee just wants to apply culture to suit her ends. In a way, the story highlights one’s option: to reject or accept a cultural heritage. The story helps the students to avoid pretensions in life.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use”.