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African-American Narration in Walker’s “Everyday Use”

Introduction

The short story titled “Everyday Use” is written by Alice Walker. “Everyday Use” portrays the different understanding of African-American history. For some, it is a part of their daily lives, while for others – something they learn about from books and college lectures. The three main characters – Mama, Dee, and Maggie all have different backgrounds, which shapes the understanding of their culture. The conflict that arises between Mama and Dee is the focal point of the plot because it reveals the lack of acceptance that African-American culture. This idea is represented as a quilt in this story, which is not merely an art form or a historical event, it is part of real life. This paper aims to explore the central theme of “Everyday Use,” reviewing literature that evaluates this short story, and compares it to the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X since they showcase the differences within the African-American community.

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The first part of the paper will present a literature review, focusing on the critique of “Everyday Use.” Additionally, works that depict the civil rights movement will be reviewed to make a comparison of Walker’s story with historical events. Next, counterpoints for the author’s argument will be examined as well as the refutation. Finally, the last section of this paper will conclude the essay, summarizing the main arguments from “Everyday Use” and the literature review.

Literature Review

Brown, DeNeen. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Met Malcolm X Just Once. The Photo Still Haunts Us with What Was Lost.” Washington Post, 2018. Web.

Brown provides a comparison of the two well-known civil rights advocates – Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The two only met once, which perhaps is connected to the differences in their political and social opinions. King believed in a non-violent way of fighting for the rights of African-Americans, while Malcolm believed in using any strategy to achieve his goals. This historical example helps understand the differences and disagreements among the African-Americans, which existed in real life and are not just a fiction that Walker described. Similar to Dee, Mama, Maggie, and Hakim, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King had different backgrounds, which shaped their perception of their culture and heritage. Thus, this article helps understand the different branches of the civil rights movement and the perceptions of their leaders about each other.

Elmore, Raheem Terrell Rashawn. “Cultural Trauma’s Influence on Representations of African American Identity in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.”. Web.

Elmore critiques Eyerman’s evaluation of “Everyday Use” as a depiction of the traumatic experience lived by African-Americans. The author states that there are two ways of viewing this storyline, progressive and traumatic. The main difference lies in the way the two conflicting parties see the slavery history and how they perceive the African and the American elements of their heritage. Elmore argues that the story presents four different views on the African-American heritage. They are the manual labor as presented by Mama, Meggies’ quilting and domestic work, Dee’s Pan Africanism, and Dee’s boyfriend Hakim’s views through the Muslim perspective. Therefore, the author examines the impact of trauma on one’s life and how it affects the African-American community based on Walker’s story.

Yuyan, Wang. “A Brief Analysis of the Inheritance of Cultural Heritage from “Everyday Use for Your Grandma.” CNKI. Web.

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Yuyang explores “Everyday Use” by also focusing on the different backgrounds of Mama, Dee, and Meggie and how this shaped their understanding of African-American history. The author mentions the development of the Black People’s Rights movement from the 1960s until the 1970s, which is an important element that helps understand the storyline better. The author summarises the story and concludes that another important element of this short story is the difference in personalities of the three characters, which affects their actions and views. Thus, in this paper, the author focuses on the similarities between “Everyday Use” and the fight for civil rights.

Boone, Alegra. “Searching for the Black Woman’s Identity in Alice Walker’s Fiction.” The Scholarship. Web.

Boone provides a different outlook on this short story, by focusing on how the knowledge and positive image is passed on from mother to daughter. Moreover, the author argues that Walker depicts some of the most common social stereotypes of the community that affect the perception of African-Americans. The focus of this short story is on the identities of the three women, the similarities and differences they possess. Mainly, the differences between Mama, Meggie, and Dee are essential, because they are a family, but their understanding of culture differs significantly. Hence, this work helps understand the characters and their identities better and perceive the familial relationship and its impact on one’s life.

Different Perspective

A different approach to interpreting Walker’s work would be to consider Dee’s example as the only true way of interpreting African-American history and culture, instead of accepting that all four characters come from different backgrounds and should reach an agreement by accepting each other’s views. Arguably, because Dee is more educated since she went to college, she has a better knowledge of history regarding slavery and fights for the civil rights of the African-Americans. Therefore, she can make a better judgment, based on her understanding of the past, about the value of a thing such as a quilt.

Writer’s Arguments

The name of the story “Everyday Use,” relates to the final scene, where Dee asks her mother to give her the quilts. She views it as a perfect representation of her African-American heritage, similar to her new name, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Dee is an older daughter of Mama, who comes to visit her family on holidays since she no longer lives with Mama and her younger sister Maggie after she went to college. Therefore, although Walker wrote “Everyday Use” from Mama’s perspective, hence her reflections are central to the plot, the author allows one to understand the distinct life experiences of all three characters.

Mama recalls how her church community and she raised funds to send Dee to college, something that Mama herself was unable to do because her school closed down, and no one questioned the legitimacy of such action. Walker depicts her as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man working hands (5). Dee’s arrival is anticipated by Mama, but she is surprised that her daughter comes with her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Moreover, her daughter is no longer “Dee,” now she is Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. These changes are significant because as she grew up and became more educated, Dee changed her perception of her heritage. She, unlike Mama and Meggie, did not have to work hard to make a living. Moreover, Meggie can quilt because her aunt and grandmother taught her this skill, and the quilt serves her as a reminder of the people she loved.

The issue of internal conflict in the African-American community is evident from the different leaders and the relationship between them. Brown mentions the following quote in which Martin Luther King Jr. describes Malcolm X – “he is very articulate, but I disagree with many of his political and philosophical views.” This signifies the respect that one had for another, but also the issue of seeing the civil rights for the African-American community in a different light. Similarly, Walker depicts the family conflict between Maggie, Mama, and Dee in the following:

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“Your heritage,” she said, and then she turned to Maggie, kissed her, and said, “You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie” However, Maggie, unlike Dee did know how to quilt since “It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself” (Walker, 80).

In this quote, it becomes evident that Dee views her family as people who misunderstand the African American culture. However, they live as African-Americans, experiencing difficulties, such as lack of education, racism, and having to work hard to make a living. Dee does not have to go through these problems, since her mother and church members collected money to send her to college, where she learned about her heritage, instead of experiencing it. Here, the comparison between Dee and Maggie is especially important because the latter can quilt, and she views the quilt as something made by her relatives and loved ones. Dee, however, sees it as an artwork, although she is unable to quilt herself. Hence, she has respect for quilting but disrespects the people who can create these things, which is the main conflict of Walker’s story.

Refutation

Despite the critique, it is evident that throughout history, African-American’s views on their heritage, history, and civil rights differed. It is incorrect to disregard the real-life experience, suffering, and oppression experienced by Mama and Meggie and accuse them of not understanding the African-American heritage. Walker clearly outlines the history of these characters and provides a comparison with the life journey of Mama and Meggie to allow a reader to see how different backgrounds can affect a person’s perception. Similar to the differences between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X discussed by Brown, Mama and Dee view their heritage differently because they had distinct life experiences. Therefore, it would be wrongful to say that Dee’s view is correct, while Mama’s is not. Instead, it is vital to see the lack of respect and comprehension that Dee demonstrates when she points out that her sister should “try to make something of yourself, too” (Walker, 80). By doing this, she completely undermines their experience even though she only learned about the value of quilts and the cultural background of these items in college without having the skill to create a quilt.

Conclusion

Overall, the researchers’ view of “Everyday Use” provides a similar outlook on the main theme – the issue of viewing African-American history and heritage differently. Mainly, the authors focus on the different personalities of the characters of different backgrounds, which shaped their understanding of their culture. The example of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. suggests that conflict within the community regarding their views on the heritage and the civil rights of African-Americans existed in real life and not just in Walker’s story. However, “Everyday Use” helps understand the importance of not overlooking the experiences of people, such as Mama and Meggie, and valuing things such as quilts not just as artwork, but also as a reminder about the people who made these quilts.

Works Cited

Boone, Alegra. “Searching for the Black Woman’s Identity in Alice Walker’s Fiction.” The Scholarship. Web.

Brown, DeNeen. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Met Malcolm X Just Once. The Photo Still Haunts Us with What Was Lost.” Washington Post, 2018. Web.

Elmore, Raheem Terrell Rashawn. “Cultural Trauma’s Influence on Representations of African American Identity in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” OhioLINK. Web.

Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Compact Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. 6th ed. New York: Pearson, 2015,494-499 Print.

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Yuyan, Wang. “A Brief Analysis of the Inheritance of Cultural Heritage from “Everyday Use for Your Grandma.” CNKI. Web.

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