"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker

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Alice Walker's short story "Everyday use" tells the story of a mother and her daughter's conflicting ideas about their identities and heritage. Mrs. Johnson an uneducated woman narrates the story of the day one daughter, Dee, visits from college. Mrs. Johnson auto-describes herself as a "big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands."(180,Walker). Contrasting her auto-description, she describes Dee as a young lady with light complexion, nice hair and full figure that "wanted nice things."(181,Walker). The arrival of Dee to Mrs. Johnson's house causes mixed emotions on Mrs. Johnson. Dee Johnson and Mrs. Johnson have differing viewpoints on heritage and each value possessions for different reasons. Dee's superficiality and materialist ways clash with Mrs. Johnson's appreciation and understanding of her heritage. The conflict between the two characters depict the meaning of the work which is that heritage is to be valued for both its usefulness as well as its personal significance.

Dees' misconstruction of her heritage was a source of conflict. Dee Johnson changes her name believing that it would affirm her heritage. Dee informs her mother she has changed her name, she states, "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people that oppress me."(184,Walker). Dee discards the name in favor of an African name, Wangero, that, although, is African, is not directly related to her heritage. Mrs. Johnson does not understand why would Dee want to change a name that has been passed down through generations. Mrs. Johnson points out to her daughter that she was not named after the oppressor, but named after her aunt, who was named after her grandmother. Dee does not pay much attention to her mother's clarification of why the name Dee is significant to the generations of the Johnson's women. Unlike Dee, Mrs. Johnson grasps and understands the significance of the name. Dee has taken on an African name; however, it does not symbolize anything related to her...
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