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The book, Everyday Use, by Alice Walker is a short story novel that was first published in 1973. The family represented in the book is African American. The story is about the differences that exist between the mama and her two daughters. The three have conflicting ideas regarding their ancestry and identity. The theme brought about by quilt is used to symbolize the strength that is achieved when a person connects with their past. "Everyday Use" is recounted in an unrefined voice of a rural black woman. The author does this in order to give the story a voice that is traditionally disenfranchised to a section of the people.
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The mother recounts the story of the day Dee, on of the daughters' visits home from college accompanied by her boyfriend. Dee clashes with Maria, the other daughter, over the ownership of some heirloom quilts. While waiting for Dee's arrival, mama reflects at how troublesome Dee was growing up and how much she hated her home so much that she set it on fire. This fire physically scarred her sister Maggie, but she never seemed to care. The mother with the help of the local church rebuilds the house and sends Dee to boarding school. Maggie, on the other hand, remains at home with the mother. Dee hates the traditional life her parents embrace. The mother's mind drifts to the night when her daughters were young when their house burned. This incidence defined her two daughters in the story. Maggie is depicted as "with her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little peppery flakes". Dee, on the other hand, is described by the narrator as, "standing off under the sweet gum tree...with a look of concentration on her face as she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot chimney."
Maggie lacks the advantages her sister had while growing up. For example, she is not educated like Dee and had to spend all her livelihood it home. However, she is receptive of her family's traditions. She also appreciates the things her grandmother and Dee left behind. The narrator, on the other hand, portrays Dee in a negative light. She is depicted as a self centered and ironically ignorant despite her modern education. This is because she lacks the right understanding of her own heritage and chooses to pursue another culture altogether. However, despite the differences in the two girls, they each represent a part of Walker's life. This is because; like Maggie, Walker suffered a trauma in her childhood that left her scarred and partially disfigured. This lowered her self esteem and made her very self conscious. On the other hand, just like Dee, she was able to rise above her shortcomings, got educated and explored her heritage (Farrell 54). Walker represents the mother in the story as she is able to see beyond Maggie's physical appearance and appreciate her worth. In the end, the author claims that tradition is bound to change once it is influenced.
The author argues on the grounds that Dee abandoned her heritage when she was influenced by the modern education. Tradition is the major theme in the story. Tradition to the family in the story is very important. However, it has different meanings to each one of them. For example, to the mother and Maggie, traditions are built on the basis of inherited objects and ideologies that govern the way a person thinks and makes decisions. However, according to Dee, tradition is something that has been surpassed by time and is no longer applicable in the modern world. Therefore, the reader should note that these two differing perspectives of tradition create tension in the story. The reader ought to, therefore, consider both sides off the narrative.
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At the beginning, of the plot of "Everyday Use" tension between Dee and family is evident. This tension is mostly attributed to the outside education Dee received when she was in boarding school. As a result of her education, Dee is liberated from a world of everyday usefulness. This means that, rather than working on the land and performing other house chores, Dee prefers to exercise a more ethereal type of usefulness. This knowledge is founded on the basis of her everyday chores. The mother talks of her accomplishments in the farm and at the homestead. For example, she points out that she can kill and clean a hog like any man. She can also cook and perform other chores in the homestead.
The mother is brought up with an education based on tradition that emphasizes the need to be useful. This contradicts with the educational traditions of Dee who has been schooled away from home. This tension between types of educational traditions forms the basis of the story. The mother speaks disdainfully about her daughter's education. This is evident where the narrator describes how she used to read to them. This means that the mother viewed Dee's education as dangerous as it involved lies and other poor habits that she disapproved of. Moreover, Dee's education makes her mother and sister feel trapped and ignorant and the mother finds it unnecessary in being useful in the home (Lupack 65).
Traditions that are rooted in learning extend to the character of the individual, and it is reflected in their decision making. For instance, the mother describes herself as a big boned and solid woman. According to her, this is the best body form, Dee, however, disapproves. Dee has been around educated women, and she does not think her mother is attractive. The mother is aware of her daughter's views and she is quoted saying," the way my daughter would want me to be a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like uncooked barley pancake." This means that Dee disregards her mother's appearance because they fail to conform to what the modern education has taught her to be attractive. This brings about tension between the forms of education. In other words, there is a difference between what is practical and useful and what is beautiful and attractive. Dee's form of dressing is also symbolically used to show how her traditions have changed. The big gold hoop earrings and the brightly colored dress are all forms of modern dressing that vary from the simple and humble nature her mother and sister exercised. This is the reason why the mother finds difficulty in accepting her daughter's new style. Another difference between the two education traditions is revealed in the case of the quilts. The mother thinks the quilts ought to be put to a useful task while Dee thinks the quilts are better used as decorations in the house to stand for something (Augoustinos & Donaghue 112).
The most prime instance of tensions created as a result of education is when Dee changes her name from Dee to Wangero. Dee disregards her mother's naming system where children are named after relatives. Dee is quoted saying, "I could not bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me." Her mother is lost of words. According to her, naming children after relatives is a tradition that had been passed on to her to ensure continuity of a family through all generations. She thinks back to Big Dee whom she named her daughter after. This is a demonstration of how Dee/ Wangero have been taught to disregard tradition and instead consider the political and social implications of a name. Her system bases the importance of a name to politics and the society while her mother's tradition bases naming children to family and family heritage (Walker 78).
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In the book, "Every day use", Alice Walker is not clear on if she is trying to demonstrate one set of tradition as better compared to another. However, Alice tries to show how education influences the thoughts of an individual. Alice shows that traditions can change over time if the right stimulus is applied. The story also shows how tradition is rooted in man's everyday use. Therefore, the meaning and the frame of the story is embedded in the title, "Everyday Use". By the end of the story, the claim that tradition is prone to change is confirmed. The title is thus used to demonstrate how much tradition is rooted in man's everyday use and at the same time, it shows that traditions can change when influenced.
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