Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Everyday Use by Alice Walker


Due to the Memorial Day holiday here in the US, here is another Tuesday edition of Short Story Monday.  This week's short story served as my introduction to the work of Alice Walker.  Everyday Use was written early in her career and appeared in the collection In Love and Trouble:  Stories of Black Women in 1973.

In the story, an unnamed, uneducated rural black woman who lives with her younger daughter Maggie, tells the story of a disagreement over the ownership of family heirloom quilts that occurs when her elder daughter, Dee, visits from college.

Dee returns in "a dress so loud it hurts my eyes.  There are yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun...Earrings gold, too, and hanging down to her shoulders.  Bracelets dangling and making noises when she moves...It [her hair] stands straight up like the wool on a sheep.  It is black as night and around the edges are two long pigtails that rope around like small lizards disappearing behind her ears."  

 She announces she is no longer 'Dee', but Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo.  She has changed her name because  she "couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me."  A discussion follows in which her mother traces the root of her given name back several generations to the Civil War.

Maggie, darker, thinner, slower, and scarred from a house fire ten years earlier, is both afraid and in awe of her sister.  She remains in the background as Dee tells of her desire to take some heirloom quilts.  Her mother, with Maggie's help, tells the story behind each piece of fabric and how it is reminiscent of a family member.  When Dee hears the quilts have been promised to Maggie, she explodes.

"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!" she said.  "She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."

The quilts will still go to Maggie, and Dee leaves in a huff telling her mother and sister that they just don't understand their heritage and that they really must try and make something of themselves.

This story was written at a time when many blacks were striving to rediscover their African roots.  While Walker doesn't appear to condemn this rediscovery, she seems to be saying that it should not occur at the expense of preserving American heritage.

Visit The Book Mine Set to see who else had a short story post this week.

5 comments:

  1. Alice Walker is certainly responsibile (and taking credit for) bringing back some of the forgotten African American writers from 1920s. She's huge advocate of the ethnic heritage. I need to read more of her. :)

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  2. Matt,
    She is an author I'll definitely be reading more of, too!

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  3. This is one of my favorite short stories. Thanks for reminding me about it.

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  4. Vasilly,
    I really liked this story, too! I'm not sure why I've never read Walker before.

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  5. Thankyou for visiting my blog today and your good wishes.

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