“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.