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Literary Analysis Essay of Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use'

0 August 11 2014, 14:24 in Literary Essay

Literary Analysis Essay of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’

Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’ is a Pullitzer Prize short essay that examines the interplay of education to tradition, culture and identity. Using a first-person perspective, readers are able to understand the story based on the viewpoint of the Dee and Maggie’s mother. Specifically, it emphasizes the differing perceptions of her daughters. In particular, there is Maggie who like Mama continues to embrace the customs and traditions that have shaped who they are. On the other side there is Dee, the daughter who wanted to escape her past and embraced a new identity. It is through these contrasting features that Walker describes the true value of culture and how it connects to embracing the influences past.

One of the themes evident in Walker’s short story is the striking impact that education impacts the characters in the story. In particular, it demonstrates how the acquisition of knowledge created a division between Dee and Maggie. For readers, it is clear that sending Dee to school opened her eyes to new ideas and perspectives surrounding the world. In turn, this became her inspiration to pursue her African roots as well as embrace the notion of a viewpoint bigger than the values she once knew growing up (Walker 1). Though this may seem to be the case, it also provided a challenge for characters in the story. It illustrates the isolation of Dee because Maggie and her mother found it difficult to embrace her ideas. They remain to be traditional and embraced the culture, heritage and identity they were accustomed to (Witsitt 447). Recognizing the clash of ideals, it can be argued that Dee remains to be at most fault because despite her educational attainment, she did not respect the importance of her heritage that have been instrumental in shaping who she is today.

Also, there is the issue surrounding heritage and how it continues to shape the distance between Dee and her family. Here, readers are able to recognize the tension that occurs when Dee changed her name to Wangero and continued to assert the history of oppression that has shaped the identity of her parents. Seeing this, it can be seen that Dee sought to change her identity by embracing a new one. Though this may seem to be the case, Dee has little idea of what being ‘African’ should be and continues to see African objects that have been instrumental as artifacts rather than tools to continuously advance African tradition (Velasquez 1). Arguably, it is through this perspective that Walker characterizes the notion of heritage and identity as one that is continuously practiced and not something that is embraced due to personal inclination or attachment to objects or artifacts.

Walker’s piece also advances quilts as an important symbolism in the story. It remains to be a valuable object that connects tradition and culture from the past to today. Even if Dee does not see the relevance of this fabric, it remains to be instrumental in showcasing the various struggles, poverty and trials that the previous generation experienced. It remains to be a testament of the legacy left behind (Velasquez 1). It is the pride that has knitted the families and African American culture together through time. This symbolism, for Dee, seems difficult to comprehend and only also sees the inequality and challenges that have prevailed when she was young.

Overall, Alice Walker’s piece remains to be a good piece in demonstrating the African-American experience. It gives emphasis on the Negro culture and how some people continue to escape the past and live on new identities. However, this inability to recognize the importance of tradition and heritage only furthers the distance between one to another. Like in the case of Dee, her failure to respect the relevance of her past and how it shaped her identity made her unable to value the true essence of culture and heritage as ‘everyday use’, one that is practiced on a daily basis.

Works Cited

Velazquez, Juan. ‘Characterization and Symbolism in Alice Walker’s "Everyday Use” Lone Star.edu. n.d. Web. Accessed 31 July 2014.

Walker, Alice. Everyday Use, 1944. Web. Accessed 31 July 2014. 

Whitsitt, Sam. ‘In Spite of It All: A Reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use” African American Review, 34.3(2000): 443-459.


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