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Everyday Use...Alice Walker

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In Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" Mama is the narrator. She speaks of her family of two daughters Maggie and Dee. Through the eyes of two daughters, Dee and Maggie, who have chosen to live their lives in very different manners, the reader can choose which character to identify most with by judging what is really important in one's life. Throughout the story three themes consistently show. These themes show that the family is separated by shame, knowledge, and pride.

Maggie is shamed from her scares of being burnt by their previous house. As her mother describes, "She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground" (87). Besides her scars, she just doesn't possess the same outgoing personality and full figure that Dee has. All these aspects make her feel inferior to Dee. She doesn't feel comfortable when Hakim-a-barber tries to shake her hand. On the other hand Dee is ashamed of her family and heritage. One of the main things that Dee does to distance herself from her family, and tarnish part of her family's tradition is the changing of her name Dee Johnson, to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because she feels that it comes from "the people that oppressed me" (Walker 88). This shows that Dee is ashamed of her family heritage and she is trying to block out the past and the family in which she was raised. This act comes to Mama as a shock because of the thought that was placed into the choosing of that name. Mama explains to Dee that she can probably trace the passing of that name to before the Civil War. Dee also sent a letter to Mama once and made the comment that she would never bring her friends when she came to visit. In this, Dee is worried about what her friends would think because she is ashamed of the shack in which Mama and Maggie lives. Mama is also ashamed of their home saying "I have deliberately turned my back on the house." (Walker 87) She describes herself in a condescending way of being fat and manly. She also mentions how uneducated she is because of school closure in the second grade. Mamma seems to be ashamed of her self as a whole (Walker 86-87).

Another theme that shows up is knowledge. "Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by." (Walker 87) This is mama commenting on how dumb Maggie is. Maggie doesn't have good communication skills nor does she have a broad range of vocabulary throughout the story. Maggie is mostly saying "Uhnnnh" if anything at all throughout the whole story. Mama portrays Maggie as a girl who "will stand hopelessly... homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs" from the fire, and who feels inferior to Dee (Walker 86). These burns and scars that Maggie has may be the reason of her lack of knowledge simply because she was ashamed to be in the learning atmosphere. Dee, unlike Maggie, is very brilliant. There seems to be some tension and or jealousy of how smart Dee is. Mama and Maggie used to listen to Dee read to them while they where trapped sitting there ignorantly. Mama said it was knowledge they didn't need to know. She also said that she often fought off the urge to shake her. Since Mama didn't get a chance to go to school, she feels inferior to Dee's skill of knowledge. Mama's tension is because she didn't get a chance to learn as much as Dee has (Walker 87-88).

Pride is the theme that seems to separate this family the most. It's having pride versus not having it. Maggie doesn't have it. She does not speak for herself when Dee wants the quilts. She lets mama speak for her. Like a scalded dog, she hides behind Mama when Dee arrives. Mama compares Maggie to a "Lame animalÐ' over by a carÐ'..."(Walker 88). Pride mostly comes from respect and she doesn't get much. Dee maybe has too much pride. This probably comes from "the world not knowing how to say no to her." She has looks



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