Everyday Use

Alice Walker, “Everyday Use” Short Essays

The narrator moves between talking about herself to talking about her daughters. How does she describe herself, as well as Dee and Maggie? How “reliable” is she as a narrator? Describe how her views shape the story and, possibly, our preferences for certain characters—or do they?

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There is much about Mama to admire. She is humble, caring, hard working and self-aware. She keeps her little farm going with the strength and determination that would put many men to shame. She has no illusions about herself or either of her daughters. Mama knows Dee lives in a world outside her own, and she knows that Maggie is destined to live a life that is similarly small. With Maggie, Mama’s pragmatism feels rather pessimistic. Throughout the story, Maggie is described in less than flattering terms. Mama describes her a “lame animal” who, although loyal and affectionate, has no strong qualities. It is even more disconcerting that Mama believes Maggie incapable of acquiring any strong qualities. Mama’s half-compliments of Dee’s natural beauty, “lighter skin”, and clever wit is juxtaposed with her comment about good looks, money, and quickness passing Maggie by. Mama has long been content - or complacent - with her lot in life and projects this same sense of fatalism onto young Maggie. According to Mama, the best Maggie can hope for is to “marry John Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest face).” Much like Dee, Mama’s limitations help shape her strengths, but she has trouble seeing beyond her front yard.