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Everyday Use

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Everyday Use, a short story about the trials and tribulations of a small African American family located in the South, is an examination of black women's need to keep their powerful heritage. It speaks on multiple levels, voicing the necessity and strength of being true to one's roots and past; that heritage is not just something to talk about but to live and enjoy in order for someone to fully understand themselves. A sociological landmine, it was written to awaken the concepts of feminism as well as the civil rights movement, while being able to focus on just three women and their relationship to one another. Everyday Use give its black female characters an identity of their own, each in their own right, and observes the internal conflicts of two sisters who have made two very different life choices, all the while scrutinizing the underlying sibling rivalry between them.

Dee is the prodigal daughter; she left home to taste the world only to be given a new appreciation of her backwoods home. She is the favored daughter, possibly because her mother was always trying to get into her favor. And she is the daughter who received all the genetic blessings: fair skin, soft hair, and a full body which gives her confidence and dominance over others, particularly her family. Her confidence radiates in the fact that she can look anyone in the eye, including "strange white men" who terrify both her mother and her sister Maggie. That same stare was the only form of emotion given when their house burned down, a tragedy that may have been perpetrated by Dee in the first place. Her hatred for that house and their lifestyle was what gave Dee a film over her eyelids, a picture of grey and filth, and eventually sent her away. She desperately wanted a life more suitable for a woman of her class, a class that she felt was better than even her own family. And as time goes by, she returns to the house that she criticized for years, never completely running her back on her family, but only for a visit and never with company, for fear of the tint it would bring to her name. Her last visit however finds her as a completely different person, with a man and a mission.

Before even truly greeting her mother and sister, Dee takes photo after photo, artfully framing every shot with both her mother and the house that she loathes, but never allowing herself to be in the picture. This was Dee's way of preserving life as it was, without having to exemplify it, without having her own world changing. But we see that she has changed from the original girl she was, now a woman, involved in the Back-to-Africa movement she calls herself Wangero and speaks in Arabic. And while she claims to now appreciate the home she came from, she does not make any physical contact with her family except to give her mother a kiss on the forehead, treating her more like a landmark than a mother. She seems to be torn between what she felt for so many years and what she has been taught to feel by her movement brothers and sisters. Her perplexity, still, does not keep her from claiming what she feels is owed to her, and what would suit to be in her home instead. Picking up a few items, reveling in their authenticity, she envisions how these everyday objects will work as centerpieces and art in her house; they are a way for her to pick up the broken loathsome pieces of her past and build them into a well-respected future. In truth, she does not want to be a part of that world, but wants people to view her as a part of it. She wants to be seen as a revolutionist, and even shares some of the feelings of those true followers of the movement. Yet, Dee's aggressiveness in taking what she wants and silencing her family turns out to be more oppressive than that which she believes she is fighting, especially towards her sister Maggie.

Maggie's equal would be the faithful and responsible son from the parable of The Prodigal Son. She is the daughter who has stood by their mother throughout the years and embraced the life she was taught by that same mother, by her aunts, and by her grandmother. Maggie is a simple woman, with simple goals of marrying a simple man from the same simple town. A victim of burns scarred all over her body from the fire of the first house, she has low confidence and self esteem. She, like her mother, probably dreams of a more glamorous life, suitable to her sister's liking, but understands she must work with the hand she has been dealt. Maggie doesn't speak to a great extent and would much rather stand behind someone than stand up to anyone. She has a fire in her, a passion, but doesn't find it coming out for the rest of the world to see, because she questions herself and her knowledge and authority. Yet Maggie has more knowledge than thought, she has the knowledge of those who came before her and the intelligence to use it. She knows what it means to be a wife, what it means to be a daughter, and she has been taught those homemaking skills that will allow her to succeed in her next home. But this knowledge is not appreciated by her sister or even mother, at least not yet.

We see the rivalry between Maggie



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