Themes in Everyday Use by Alice Walker

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A mother and daughter bond is one of the most unbreakable bonds that one can experience in life. Nevertheless, such bonds may turn sour sometimes and create enmity between them. Everyday Use is a story narrated by Alice Walker who tries to show how a mother has a tumultuous relationship with her two daughters. Fundamentally, Alice Walker is telling a story of how a mother and her younger daughter simple values differ from her older more successful daughter constructed values. With the aid of the three main characters who includes Mama, Dee (Wangero), and Maggie, Alice Walker uses this story to elucidate and explore the concept of culture and heritage during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Particularly, Alice Walker used this story to bring out various themes in the society that included heritage, race and family relations.

Heritage is an important theme in Everyday Use. Dee is angered by her heritage due to the oppression that they suffered. This caused Dee to create a new heritage to reconstruct the previous way she lived. Dee had opted to change her name in order to denounce her heritage. In one of the conversations with Mama, Dee boldly turns down the name Dee and demanded to be called Wangero. She said, "No Mama, not Dee,’ Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!" (Walker 318). Dee goes on to tell Mama, "I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after people who oppress me" (Walker 318). Even though her original name Dee had significant meaning coming from family member including her aunt and great-grandmother, she failed to realize that meaning and believe that her real heritage is dead. Clearly, it is evident that heritage is a big issue here as Dee decided to drop the name of her immediate ancestors, but portrays a different attitude towards other household items. Dee admiration reflects the role played by traditions and heritage in shaping her life despite branding it old fashioned during her college days.
Race is another important theme in Everyday Use. Mama was denied an education when she was growing up because of her race. "I never had an education myself. After second grade the school was closed down. Don't ask me why: in 1927 colored asked fewer questions than they do now" (Walker 316). The lack of education that Mama received placed her in her current situation of poverty. Mama life does not change until her daughter starts questioning their way of living. Dee believed that she is different from other African American. Dee is described by Mama when stated, "Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure" (Walker 316). This lead Dee to feel like she is not an ordinary African American girl because of her skin color. This aspect of race had Dee believing that her socio-cultural status should be higher than others of the same race. Another aspect of race is seen when Dee stated, "You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. It's really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live, you'd never know it" (Walker 321). Dee is telling Maggie that this is a new day for African Americans and that she does not have to live in poverty. Dee wanted Maggie to see that she did not have to follow all of her ancestors’ footsteps and that she could advance in life as she has done.

Family relation might be the most important theme in Everyday Use. This story is told through the point of view of a daughter returning home. In the beginning of the story, Mama sentimentally reflects on the lifestyle of herself and her two daughters and the circumstances surrounding their upbringing. Family love is portrayed by Mama and Maggie, whereas Dee seems to differ with Mama on a various issue, but Mama still loves and cares for her. Maggie, on the other hand, is a more submissive child who loves, respects and adores the family and her cultural heritage at large. Dee rejection of her family can be seen when Mama stated, "You know as well as me you was named after your aunt Dicie," I said. Dicie is my sister. She named Dee. We called her "Big Dee" after Dee was born" (Walker 318). Dee denouncing her name is a direct dismissal of her family ancestry. Mama on the other hand, regards family ties highly, even though Dee had rejected her family ties. For instance, in a situation where they seemed to differ, Mama stated "I did something I never had done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero's hands, and dumped them into Maggie's lap" (Walker 321). Mama wanted to pass the quilts on to someone who valued family ties which was not Dee but Maggie. Family is more important to Mama and Maggie, whereas family is less important to Dee. Mama had a great understanding of family and her heritage which is more valuable to Mama than the path chosen by Dee. This is why Mama would not allow Dee to take the quilts.

In conclusion, the story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker has introduced numerous themes that bring life to the story. Starting from the aspect of heritage which seems to bring conflicting ideas among the characters to the aspect of race and family ties, the author has managed to use the story to explore everyday life problems in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, there is still room to explore more themes in the story since the writer must have covered various issues concerning daily lives during this time.

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Themes in Everyday Use by Alice Walker. (2021, Mar 17). Retrieved May 20, 2024 , from

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