AP English 4
13 Apr 2010
Dee: the Sister Who Lost Her Identity
Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is a short story about the clash between a mother and daughter. Dee is the child returning home to visit. The visit is not exactly pleasant and ends after a stand-off between her and Mama. Many readers see Mama as finally standing up for her own ideals while also refusing to conform to the rules Dee wishes her to follow. Dee follows different rules of society and religion than her mother does in order to become her own person. The rules Dee follows are shallow compared to the old-fashioned ways of her mother.
In "Everyday Use", Walker tells a story of a child who believes her mother's views to be old-fashioned and considers herself to be more in touch with her culture. Author Flannery O'Connor has written numerous short stories containing issues similar to these issues:
This plot line and character type can be found in a number of O'Connor short stories, for example, 'Good Country People,' 'Everything That Rises Must Converge,' and 'The Enduring Chill.' O'Connor ends these stories with an epiphanic awareness on the part of the arrogant intellectual of his or her true fragility, thereby providing, too, a more positive view of the parent (in comparison to her child). (Bauer) Bauer points out that Dee too is an arrogant intellectual and has chosen to follow faulty values that only allow her to make poor choices. O'Connor's arrogant intellectuals are similar to Dee, and O'Connor's positively viewed parents are likened to Mama (Bauer). To continue this relationship, both O'Connor and Walker provide their readers with accounts of characters facing complex situations, as well as an insight to typical Southern lifestyles, while finalizing their pieces with the parents in a positive light and the child seen as misguided (Bauer).
Dee wishes to promote her heritage proudly to the point of bragging. Instead of using the quilt to keep warm or for "everyday use", she wants to hang it up on a wall as if it were in a showcase in a museum. Dee says: "Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!" (Walker 94). Finally, Dee's mother asks her "Well… [w]hat would you do with them?" and Dee replies promptly "'Hang them…[a]s if that was the only thing you could do with quilts" (Walker 94). Walker uses these quotes to reinforce the idea that Dee believes it is more acceptable, and therefore better, to view your heritage at a distance. View it as a fragile artifact that is part of a museum collection, an artifact that shows how far you have come from where you started, rather than to embrace it and allow it to become part of yourself.
Dee refuses to see herself as a part of the life she had once lived. She has become her own person. She has lost a true understanding of her heritage. She refuses to see herself as a part of her former life except in a fashionable sense. This explains the reason she chooses to return home. She returns home not to catch up with her mother, but to take things from her past and fashion them for her own uses. When she takes photographs, she makes sure to get the house in the picture and even a cow from the pasture (Walker 92). This is all done to prove to others that her background really was humble. This will be something she will want to show off to her friends.
Dee wants the butter churn as another artifact to brag about. She thinks the lid to the butter churn will be a fabulous center piece for their dining room table (Walker 93). She could tell her friends how the artifact dates back to her great-grandmother's time (Walker 93). Although Dee wishes to appear knowledgeable about her background, it is clear that she is not. Susan Farell takes notice of Dee's "false or shallow understanding of the past" and states that Walker exposes this when Dee mentions to Mama that she wants the dasher to the butter churn. Dee's lack of knowledge is revealed when Hakim-a-barber asks if "Uncle Buddy...