"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker: Summary

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About this sample


Words: 549 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: May 4, 2021

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Words: 549|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: May 4, 2021

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
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The essay explores Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" and delves into the themes of heritage and identity within the narrative. The story is narrated by Mama, a hardworking woman awaiting the return of her daughter, Dee, who has been away at school. Mama's younger daughter, Maggie, is also present but feels overshadowed by Dee's success and confidence.

Dee arrives with her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber, and immediately shows an interest in family artifacts, such as a butter churn and some handmade quilts. She has changed her name to "Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo" to distance herself from her family's history of oppression. The conflict arises when Dee insists on taking the family quilts, which Mama had promised to Maggie. Mama ultimately decides to give the quilts to Maggie, recognizing her appreciation for their heritage.

The essay highlights the contrasting views of heritage and identity between Dee, who seeks to display her roots as a form of art, and Maggie, who values the practical and emotional significance of these items. It underscores the idea that heritage is not just about preserving objects but also understanding the experiences and traditions passed down through generations. In the end, Mama's choice to give the quilts to Maggie reflects her belief that heritage should be used and cherished rather than put on display.

“Everyday Use”, a short story written by Alice Walker, is told in the perspective of Mama. Mama is described as “a big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands”. The story begins with Mama waiting on her oldest daughter Dee to arrive home. It is learned that Mama and the church raised enough money to send Dee to school in Augusta. Mama waits with Dee’s younger sister Maggie. Due to burns she received in a house fire, Maggie is extremely shy and insecure. She is also very envious of Dee, as she is everything that Maggie is not. While waiting, Mama fantasizes about reuniting with Dee on a television program where the child who has “made it” is confronted by their parents. Mama dreams that on this show, Dee would pin orchids to her dress and thank her for helping her find success.

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Depiction of Heritage and Identity in Walker's "Everyday Use"

When Dee finally arrives, she is joined by her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Hakim-a-barber attempts to greet Mama and Maggie, but Maggie recoils from him. Meanwhile, Dee gets her camera from the car and begins to take pictures of Mama and Maggie in front of the house. When she is finished, she puts the camera away and kisses Mama on the forehead. When Mama calls Dee by her name, she proceeds to inform her that she has changed her name to “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”, as she no longer wanted to be named after the people who oppressed her.

They all go inside to eat. Hakim-a-barber announces that he does not eat collards and pork was unclean. Dee, however, eats everything that Mama has to offer. She is especially delighted at the fact that the family still uses the benches her father made for the table. Soon after, Dee asks Mama if she can have the family’s butter churn and dasher. She reveals that she will use the churn top as a centerpiece for her table, and the dasher to serve some other artistic purpose.

Next, Dee stumbles upon some old quilts made by her mother, aunt, and grandmother. Dee asks her mother for the quilts. Mama suggests that she takes any of the other quilts. However, Dee insists on the quilts hand stitched by her grandmother. Mama finally reveals that she promised those quilts to Maggie for when she got married. Dee is offended. She argues that Maggie can’t appreciate the quilts and won’t be able to preserve them. Mama in turn argues that she hopes Maggie does put them to everyday use, and that she can always make more since she knows how to quilt.

In an attempt to restore peace, Maggie offers Dee the quilts. However, when Mama looked at Maggie, she was struck with a feeling she got when she was in church. This feeling motivated her to snatch the quilts out of Dee’s arms and give them to Maggie, where she felt they belonged. She again tells Dee that she can have one of the other quilts. Dee decides to leave instead.

Upon leaving, Dee tells Mama that she does not understand her own heritage. She also tells Maggie that’s it is a new day for black people and that she should try to make something of her self. The story ends with Mama and Maggie watching Dee and Hakim-a-barber drive off, then sitting outside until the sun went down.

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Alice Walker demonstrates how heritage is primarily shaped by experience and traditions handed down by one generation to the next. Dee doesn’t care if she had the quilts handed on to her. She was more interested of the ideas of showing it off. There will be no part of the sacred and priceless artifacts that remain in her home. While much of Dee’s advantages are lacking, Maggie is worthy of pursuing family tradition. Maggie pointed out that she uses the quilts as a symbol of her grandma and aunt.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. (2021, May 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
““Everyday Use” by Alice Walker.” GradesFixer, 04 May 2021,
“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
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