Walker & Everyday Use
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Many times an author draws from his or her personal life and incorporates his or her past into the short story. Alice Walker is one of the most respected, well-known African-American authors of her time. Alice Walker experienced a lifetime of hardship that would influence her later works, helping her to become such an astonishing author. In her short story “Everyday Use”, Walker tells the story of her heritage and enables the reader to encounter the values in her life.
On February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, Willie Lee and Minnie Grant gave birth to their eighth child; a precious little girl whom they named Alice. As an extremely intelligent child Alice was always exploring the world around her. “She said that one of her favorite pastimes in the world was people watching.” (
By distinguishing the family-oriented round characters in the short story “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker illustrates the common mistake of placing the association of heritage solely in material objects. Walker presents Mama and Maggie, the younger daughter, as an example that heritage in both knowledge and form passes from one generation to another through a learning and experience connection. However, by a broken connection, Dee, the older daughter, represents a misconception of heritage as materialistic. During Dees visit to Mama and Maggie, the contrast of the characters becomes the conflict, because Dee misplaces the significance of heritage in her desire for racial heritage.
Mama and Maggie symbolize the connection between generations and the heritage that passed between them. Mama and Maggie continue to live together in their humble home. Mama is a robust woman, who does the needed upkeep of the land as Walker states “I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.” (Walker, 87)
Maggie is the younger of the two daughters, “homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs,” (Walker, 86) helping out her Mama by making “the yard so clean and wavy” (Walker, 86). Neither Mama nor Maggie are modernly educated people; “I [Mama] never had an education myself. Sometimes Maggie reads to me. She stumbles along good-naturedly She knows she is not bright” (Walker, 88). However, by helping Mama, Maggie put the hand-made items in her life to everyday use, experiencing the life of her ancestors, while learning about her familys history. All of which her materialistic sister does not and will never possess.
Contrasting through Mama and Maggie, Dee seeks her heritage without understanding the heritage itself. Unlike Mama who is rough and man-like and Maggie who is shy and scared, Dee is confident, where “Hesitation is no part of her nature”, and she is “lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure.” with a modernized education. (Walker, 87) Dee attempts to connect with her racial heritage by taking
“picture after picture of me sitting there in front of the house with Maggie She never takes a shot without making sure the house is included” (Walker, 88).