Maggie and Wangero (Dee) are sisters. Maggie still lives with their mother in the family home. Wangero has moved on and lives in the city. Wangero has changed her name from Dee to get more in touch with her heritage. After years of shunning her African American background, Wangero now wants to embrace it. Wangero is used to getting her way. Her mother has never not given her everything she‘s asked for. She’s educated, clothed, and has grown into an attractive young woman. Maggie on the other hand is still living on the farm.
She didn’t receive the same opportunities as her sister. A fire has left her scared, more than just physically. She is more introverted then Wangero. She’s not used to getting her way but still plodding through life with the expectations of a future. She knows her life will be servitude to her future husband John Thomas. Life has just passed her by when it comes to the values that her sister Wangero holds dear. The only things the two have in common are two quilts handed down from generation to generation.
The quilts are made from bits of clothing from their ancestors past. Hand sewn these quilts are the fabric of their families history. Each piece of cloth that is sewn in the quilt has a story of its own. Each has its place in the family’s’ long history. This is the common bond between the two. Wangero wants these to try and recoup her lost history. She has lost her roots. Roots she not so long ago scoffed and pushed aside for a new life, a new culture. Two quilts that she wants to use as a symbol of her heritage.
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She wants people to see her heritage. Bits of old cloth sewn together demonstrating her oppressed past. Allowing people to see, she has over come her past. That she is no longer oppressed. In contrast Maggie has lived her family’s values. She is part of the family’s history its heritage. One day she will add a piece of cloth to the quilts and pass them down to her children. Unlike Wangero she has worked and toiled through life. She lives her heritage on a daily basis. Wangero and Maggie’s mother promised the quilts to Maggie.
The quilts are most probably the only thing that Maggie values. Maggie is upset with the fact that Wangero just takes them. Wangero clutches the quilts to her chest with a sense of ownership. Maggie in the tradition of her heritage is willing to let Wangero keep them. She is upset with her siblings’ selfishness. She knows that the quilts are rightfully hers. She is willing to part with them to allow Wangero to regain her concept of the family heritage. Maggie knows that no matter what Wangero tries she will never truly regain what she has thrown away.
The mother tells Wangero that the quilts are Maggies and she may choose other ones but not those quilts. Wangero realizes that her mother prizes Maggie’s sense of family. She knows that Maggie will add to them and to the family’s history. The quilts for Wangero are a symbol of her heritage. Maggie is part of her heritage. She is a piece of fabric in the quilt. Wangero may never be part of the quilt. She shunned her heritage years ago. Works Cited Kennedy, X. J. , Dana Gioia, and Alice Walker. "Everyday Use. " An Introduction to Fiction. Boston: Longman, 2010. 455-61. Print.
Everyday Use Summary by Alice Walker
In the short story Everyday Use, by Alice Walker, the short story is narrated by a black woman in the South who is faced with the decision to give away two quilts to one of her two daughters. Dee, her oldest daughter who is visiting from college, perceives the quilts as popular fashion and believes they should undoubtedly be given to her. Maggie, her youngest daughter, who still lives at home and understands the family heritage, has been promised the quilts. Dee is insistent to possess these heirlooms of family heritage, while Maggie is forbearing in allowing Mama to make her own decision as to who should receive the quilts. Dee shows a lack of appreciation, disrespect, and a distancing behavior towards her mother and sister. Mama ultimately decides to give the quilts to Maggie with sufficient reasons to do so.
Mama recognizes Dee's different style of life and the lack of appreciation her character displays. Her mother states, "I didn't want to bring up how I had offered Dee a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old-fashioned, out of style." Dee does not appreciate things unless it is for her own self-gratification.
After being away at college, she is demanding to be given the quilts that her grandmother and aunt have made, for she now sees these precious items as fashionable objects. "Dee wanted nice things. At sixteen she had a style of her own and knew what style was." She has a selfish mind of her own. Mama is more simple. She learned about life by working hard. "I was always better at a man's job. I used to love to milk till I was hoofed in the side in 49." Because Mama is intimately aquatinted with labor, she can relate to the arduous work that is involved in putting a quilt together. This unfolds as a determiner in Mama's decision as she gives the quilts to the one who will overall appreciate them.
Dee is clearly distancing herself from her mother and sister. She goes so far as to change her name from Dee to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, saying, "I couldn't bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me." Yet, she wants the quilts that are made by the very people that she despises. Mama is uneducated but not so ignorant as to realize Dee's unrooted, superficial motivation to have the quilts. "For her, heritage is something to be displayed on the coffee table and on the wall."
Dee blatantly disrespects her mother's authority and free will. Dee is already claiming the quilts to herself, even though Mama has never said "yes" that she could have them. Dee challenges Mama's authority by grasping the quilts and moving back as her mother tries to touch them. By doing this, she also disregards Mama's free will to give the quilts to whomever she would like. Mama observes that if Dee cannot preserve the unity of the family by honoring her mother, then how will she be able to appreciate the quilts in a respectable way.
Dee has nothing but put-downs for Maggie, implying that she is more deserving to receive the quilts. She is using this cunning approach to get what she wants. As Dee is visiting, she comments to Mama regarding the quilts, "Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags." Dee goes to the notable extent to say, "Maggie can't appreciate these quilts." Mama discerns Dee's manipulation to twist the truth, because she is aware that Maggie knows what it takes to produce a quilt.
"It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself." Of course, Maggie can appreciate the quilts much more than Dee can. Naturally, Mama will give the quilts to the one who can appreciate them most because she has been cherishing them. "God knows I've been saving'em for long enough with nobody using 'em."
Maggie is a frail, weak girl, walking with chin on chest, eyes on ground, and feet in shuffle. She surrenders the quilts that have been promised to her, by telling Mama that Dee can have them. "Mama sees in Maggie's angerless fear an image of her own passive acceptance of Dee's aggression, her own suppressed anger." She finally realizes that she is just as intimidated by Dee as Maggie is. This awareness causes her to rise up and demonstrate her opinion toward Dee. She proceeds to hug Maggie, drag her into the room, snatch the quilts out of Dee's hands, and dump them on Maggie's lap.
Mama, Dee, and Maggie have learned a meaningful lesson through Mama's decision. On the one hand Mama has learned to establish her hidden power in an influential way. Dee has experienced hearing the word "no" for practically the first time. "No is a word the world never learned to say to her.
" Maggie is lifted to a new plateau that will hopefully help her through the next conflict of life. At the moment of receiving the quilts, she sits with her mouth open as if she is surprised to win, unlocking a new revelation: she certainly is a winner. Being a winner means that you have to assert yourself sometimes and that is the lesson that Maggie learns from watching her mother's conduct on the day that Dee has come to visit. A real smile comes upon Maggie's face as she is saying goodbye to Dee that day. Dee is humbled by covering her eyes in shame. "She put on some sunglasses that hid everything above the tip of her nose and chin."
Summary of Everyday Use
Alice’s Walker’s, “Everyday Use”, tells a story of a southern, African American family that consist of Mama, the story’s narrator, and her two daughters, Dee, the oldest, and her sister, Maggie. Set during the back to Africa movement of the early 1970’s, when African Americans removed their surnames or names fully and adopted new names that represented their African heritage, Dee leaves home for college and returns to announce the change of her name from Dee to Wangero.
She collects items that Mama and Maggie uses everyday to take with her, and finally tries to take a quilt that has been stitched together by her family for generations. “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker reveals the intracultural class within the Black community as African Americans struggle to piece together the elements of their lives that are both African and American into a cohesive whole. Alice Walker characterizes Dee as an aggressive, confident woman who normally gets what she wants.
Mama recalls, “Dee wanted nice things…. She was determined to stare down any disaster in her effort…At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was” (paragraph 12). Dee has ambitions and goals and lets nothing stop her from reaching them. She has her own way of going about things and is determined to get her way no matter what. Highly intelligent and ambitious, Dee goes to school to further her education and to expand her horizon, and, while in college, Dee learns the culture of her people.
However, Dee’s intelligence and ambition are characteristics that lead to the conflict in the story because they also reveal Dee’s naivety and the static nature of Walker’s character development. Because she always gets her way, Dee is single minded and does not see the clash she creates between herself and her family members. When she first returns home, she snaps photos of Mama and Maggie sitting on the porch as if they are artifacts of an old way of life, illustrating their setting in an old way of life, and her modern, Afro-centric world.
She flaunts her education by reading to Mama and Maggie and gives unnecessary information as if they are dimwits further contrasting herself with her mother and sister, and does not realize the division she is causing. Dee has gotten all that she has wanted; however, her education does not indicate a dynamic development in her character. The level of Dee’s greed and superiority are finally revealed as she tries to take a quilt Mama has promised to Maggie. Dee and Mama argue for a while then Dee claims, “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts…They’re riceless…You just don’t understand…Your heritage” (paragraph 66-81). Dee knows the objects are of valuable, so she wants to show them off, in her world, as an example of her coming from nothing to the college educated woman she has become. Walker’s character development allows the setting to show in the contrast of Dee’s world, her stroking hand adorned in bangles as part of her African grab, against the faded much used quilt from Mama and Maggie’s world.
Dee believes Mama doesn’t understand her own heritage because the quilt is rare and valuable, and she doesn’t see why Maggie, who doesn’t know how valuable the quilts are and will put it to everyday use, should have them. Even though Dee is gifted and excels in school, she is completely unaware that her true cultural heritage, honor, survival, family and family history, have been passed down through generations. Driven by ego and blinded to the truth, Dee thinks her culture is found in books rather than the stitches of the quilts, the fabric of her mother’s promise to her children.
Mama wants to honor her promise to give the quilts to Maggie, and it was Mama who provided Dee with the opportunity to receive an education, “But that was before we raised the money, the church and me, to send her to Augusta to school” (paragraph 11). Dee, however, does not realize the history of her culture is not just in the quilts, the items and pictures, but the people that take the knowledge and abilities they learned from their ancestors to provide for the current and next generation; that’s why culture heritage can not be learned in school.
On the other hand, Maggie, the sister who does not go to school, is fully aware of her cultural heritage. Maggie, being very family-orientated, reveals the knowledge of her family. Dee asks for the dasher, her friend asks if Uncle Buddy had made it and they both look at Mama for confirmation, but it was Maggie who says, “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash…His name was Henry, but they called him Stash” (paragraph 52). In recognition of Maggie’s expertise of the family’s history Dee says Maggie has the brain of an elephant; meaning she remembers a lot.
Maggie comprehends the family history and can identify what responsibilities people in the family possessed. Mama’s brother-in-law, her sister’s husband, helped Mama’s family by making them a dasher; Walker uses this to illustrate how united their families are because they assist each other when needed. In addition, they gave Mama’s brother-in-law a nickname; nicknames are a sign of affection and Maggie calls him by his nickname which shows their close relationship. Maggie inherited her culture customs.
Mama explains, “She knows she is not bright…She will marry John Thomas and then I’ll be free to sit here and I guess just sing church songs to myself” (paragraph 13). Maggie will become like her mom and keep the tradition of the southern black woman because she too is uneducated, will marry, and raise kids. Walker reveals the cultural heritage of southern blacks that they are supposed to get married and raise children. Maggie tells Mama Dee can have the quilt, which was promised to her, and she can remember her grandmother without the quilt.
Maggie says, “She can have them, Mama…I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (paragraph 74). Then Mama explains, “It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself. She stood there with her scarred hands hidden in the folds oh her skirt” (paragraph 75). Maggie doesn’t need the quilt to remember her grandmother because she has memories which are more valuable to her than the quilt. The quilt is just a symbol of the memories Maggie had with her grandmother. Grandma Dee and Big Dee taught Maggie the skill of quilting which has been passed down through family generations.
This shows the cultural heritage of the family that they are skilled quilt makers. Maggie is very family-orientated she learns the family skill of making quilts, has knowledge of the family tree and its history. Maggie is very close with her family because she calls them by their nicknames and has plenty of memories of the family. She will continue to pass on the culture heritage of the family by marrying, having children, teaching her children how to quilt, and keeping the family close together as did the people before her; she is her family cultural heritage.
What makes the story well written is because it reminds people that they are their cultural heritage and that’s not something people can just get from a one dimensional textbook. It shows how two people can be raised by the same mother and have a different view of life, as in they are sisters by blood, grow up in the same house, and be so far apart. There is one sibling, Dee, she has a lot of text book knowledge of her people’s history, but loses touch with her own cultural heritage, and than there is the other sister, Maggie, she has no text book knowledge of her people’s history but is living proof of her people’s history.
A great lesson people need to learn because people are losing touch with their family morals and becoming less family orientated, which is weakening a lot of families. United people stand together and divided people falls, which is the key lesson the story, teaches and makes it a well written story because it is able to take something that is happening in real life and reflects it to where an average person can relate.
The Thematic Character of Everyday Use by Alice Walker
Often times after a person reads a piece of literature, he or she will form opinions about the motivations of the characters, the effects of the setting, the overall theme or underlying message being conveyed, and the other elements that helped to shape the whole story. After contemplating about their particular beliefs about a work, individuals will find their ideas to be different from others because each of them perceives details of the tale in a varying manner. For this reason, it was not surprising that many of my classmates and I had conflicting opinions about the main themes present in Alice Walker"s "Everyday Use (For Your Grandmama).
Numerous members of the class strongly felt that the story"s central theme lied in the differing values of each the characters. They used textual evidence to prove that Dee"s views on certain issues were so unlike those of her mother and Maggie"s that they actually created a barrier between Dee and her family. Others felt that the setting and the type/amount of education influenced the motives of each of the characters. These people referred to the fact that Dee had the opportunity to obtain a proper education and that Mama and Maggie did not.
The rural setting served as a means to enhance their views because it showed that most people had to work instead of receiving an education. In comparison with these viewpoints mentioned, I took a much different approach to interpreting the principal theme of this story. I truly believed that "Everyday Use" was about the ways in which Dee"s personality affected herself and her family. Using this generalized notion, I developed a more precise theme for this work. Each of us is raised within a culture, a set of traditions handed down by those before us.
As individuals, we view and experience common heritage in subtly differing ways. Within many smaller communities and families, deeply felt traditions serve to enrich this common heritage. Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" explores how, in her eagerness to claim an ancient heritage, Dee denies herself the substantive personal experience of familial traditions in such incidents as the justification of her name change, her comments during the meal with the family, and her requesting Mama for the quilts.
Upon arriving at her mother"s new house for the first time, Dee surprises her mother and Maggie with her appearance and her apparent name change. Dee quickly informs her mother that she has made her new name "Wangero" to reflect her African heritage. She no longer will be named after the people who oppress her. This reference can be attributed to Dee"s possible experiences as a civil rights activist. Among the black community many people adopt African names to reflect their pre-slavery heritage. While this can be a source of strength and affirmation for some, it may represent a rejection of one's past, as it apparently does for Dee.
Even her mother"s response that she was named 'Dee' after her aunt, who was named for the aunt's mother, "though I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches," does not have any true effect on her perception of her given name (32). Dee still feels that being called "Wangero" will give her cultural fulfillment, whereas her real name holds her back from attaining this. She fails to recognize that her mother"s words actually show how the family is proud to pass the name 'Dee" along generations to help preserve their own traditions.
Dee does not feel the pride that is associated with her real name because she possesses a certain prejudice against her family that will not allow her to embrace her own private heritage. This prejudice is rooted in her beliefs that her mother and Maggie are incapable of relating her views due to their lack of education and their unwillingness to accept new ideas. Judging from Dee"s opinions about her name, readers can clearly see that she has misunderstandings about her living heritage that prevent her from feeling the joy of carrying on a family name.
Against Dee's claim to her African roots is the thread of tradition in her own family. Not only has Dee achieved an education denied her mother, she has rejected her given name, and she sees self-created symbolism in the food and objects present at the meal. Dee "[goes] on through the chitlins and corn bread," "[talks] a blue streak over the sweet potatoes," and "[thoroughly] delights herself [with] everything" (45). Dee finds this meal to be a sort of novelty that she can only appreciate properly because she is now in the proper surroundings to do so.
Her usually more sophisticated diet leaves her room to relish such a simple meal and its reflection of her African roots, not her rural family culture. She admits to Mama to not appreciating as a child the benches on which they are sitting, made by her father. Dee can "feel the rump prints" (46). Yet, when next Dee exclaims to her mother that she wants the butter churn which was whittled out of a tree by her uncle, and that she will use it as a centerpiece for one of her tables, readers suspect her appreciation for the benches and the churn is really as mere artifacts.
Dee then turns her attention to the dasher used with the churn. She assures everyone that she will "'think of something artistic to do with the dasher'" (53). When the shy Maggie informs them her uncle Henry made the dash, and that they used to call him Stash, Dee exclaims, "'Maggie's brain is like an elephant's'," implying that Maggie's knowledge is feral, that she can't help but hold on to facts which are irrelevant (53). Real, human details, such as the name of the man who made the dasher, are not relevant to Dee.
She feels the workmanship in the dasher represents good quality art that should be displayed accordingly to mirror her appreciation of her roots. Dee sees the object as a thing of beauty, but not as a part of her very personal culture, a utility reflecting the effort and determination of those who once used it. In turn, she is alienating herself from her personal identification of family"s past through her superficial recognition of the dasher"s value. Dee"s family knows that "hesitation [is] no part of [Dee's] nature," and that she is determined to achieve what she desires (6).
In the bedroom, rifling through her mother's keepsakes, Dee finds her grandma"s quilts, and tries to lay claim to them. The quilts are made of old dresses and cloths, some handed down from several prior generations. When Dee asks her mother if she can have them, we sense a turning point is reached. Since Dee already rejected them once before, Mama responds to Dee"s request by stating that the quilts have been promised to Maggie.
Dee argues that her mother and Maggie cannot properly appreciate the quilts, that the quilts should be displayed. 'Maggie... [would] probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use'" (66). Dee"s claim to the quilts and her plans to use them as decorations show her outward perception of family heirlooms to be mere objects of display, not treasured items that help people remember their loved ones and make them appreciate the hard work put into them. Dee"s adopted values cloud her mind and thoughts, making her naive to the integrity and genuine nature of her culture.
Her mother"s refusal to grant this one favor does not even create any sense of misgivings on her part. Her arrogance and her adherence to her misguided beliefs make her unable to see the true worth of the quilts and their importance to her family"s traditions. Dee"s notions about the quilts thwart her from experiencing the happiness associated with displaying one"s own familial culture to the rest of the world. Our heritage threads through history past the people who contributed to it, to affect us on a personal level.
To be fully appreciated and claimed, it must reside in the heart. Dee understands the heritage of people she doesn't know. In this way, her adopted heritage can be understood intellectually, but it is not felt, not personal, and not truly her own. Her rejection of her family"s culture in the rural society will not allow to ever have feelings of personal pride about her true roots. In turn, Dee can never really find happiness in most aspects concerning her immediate family, making it hard for her to have a loving relationship with any of them.
The Welcome Table by Alice Walker
I choose to analyze The Welcome Table by Alice Walker; this story is about an old, rundown black woman who staggers the necessary distance in the freezing cold to attend an all-white people church. The Welcome Table is told in the third person and shifts the point of view from which the story is told. The white people are at a loss when they see her near the entrance of the church and do not know what to do. Some people take her in as she is, an old black woman with a mildewed dress that is missing buttons.
She is lean and wrinkled with blue-brown eyes. Her appearance makes some of the white people think of black workers, maids, cooks; others think of black mistresses or jungle orgies. Still others think that she is a foreshadow of what is to come - black people invading the one place that it still considered the white person's sanctuary, their church. They see her and transfer their fear of blacks onto her. The beginning of the story is told from the white people's perspectives as they see an old black woman come to their church and go inside.
Inside the church, the point of view switches to the usher who tells the old black lady to leave. The point of view then switches back to the white women inside the church, who take it as a personal insult and feel the most threatened about the old black lady being at their church. They rouse their husbands to throw the old lady out. The perspective then changes to the old black lady. This constant changing of point of view is useful in that it portrays the fears, thoughts, and feelings of almost everyone in the story.
Firsthand, the reader is able to know what the people are thinking and why. In the end, the point of view briefly returns to the white people who were at church that day. The story ends with the perspective of some black families who witnessed the old lady walking down the highway. The story starts on a Sunday morning at the steps of the church that white people attend. The focus moves briefly inside the church where it is cold. As the story progresses the setting moves to the highway located outside the church. It is freezing outside.
It is interesting to note that the old black woman does not find Jesus inside the "white" church but outside of it. Also of interest; prior to meeting Jesus, the old black woman is cold and shivering. After meeting Jesus, no mention is made of the woman's being cold or shivering. Walker does not give a specific time period in which the story takes place or a specific location. This might have been done to make the story timeless. The language used in The Welcome Table is very descriptive in her details of the old black woman's appearance and the appearance of Jesus.
Walker is also detailed when describing the white people's different emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Walker provides insight into all the characters with her word choices, and by doing so, makes a simple story more profound. Walker writes this story straight through for the most part with only two breaks. The first break comes immediately after the old woman is thrown out of the church. The point of view then shifts to the old black woman whose thoughts and feelings were unknown to the reader up to this point.
The second break occurs after the old woman is walking with Jesus. Walker uses the break to shift forward in time in the white people's perspective. Although the old woman dies at the end of the story and an argument could be made that she was walking alone, this story contains hope and leaves the reader with a good feeling. The story gives hope that people who have lived a life of servitude and poor treatment will, in the end, find kindness, acceptance, and joy.
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