Alice Walker uses a recurring theme in the short story, ‘Everyday Use,’ to portray harmony amidst difficulties and conflicts within the African-American culture. She relies on the experiences of people in Mrs. Johnson’s household. The encounter happens when the educated member of the family, Dee, visits her mother, Mama and her younger sister Maggie in the company of her Muslim boyfriend Hakim. Walker utilizes characterization to show the difference between the perceptions of African-American culture and ultimately upholds them to show that history and culture are a component of everyday existence as the story’s name indicates. Alice Walker uses Dee to question individuals, including separatists and activists, who dismiss and disregard their heritage. Therefore, this paper will analyze the character of Dee in “Everyday Use”.
Dee is characterized by great looks, education, and aspirations as her mom receives funds from her local church to finance Dee’s education. Her education is important in bringing out her character; however, it has divided her from the individuals who are supposed to be her priority, her family. According to Mama, ‘She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice.'(Walker, 6). In addition, Dee has embraced various customs that conflict with her family’s heritage and traditions: she is on a mission to get connected to her African roots and she has even changed her name to Wangero. In trying to recover her ‘ancient’ roots, she has also rejected, or possibly refused to acknowledge, her firsthand heritage that is the heritage that Maggie and their mother share.
Among her family, Dee is the object of astonishment, disconcert, and envy, while individually she struggles to find personal significance and a more profound self-feeling. She’s affected Mama and Maggie and they both long for Dee’s approval. This is obvious in the fantasies of Mama about how she would be reunited in a television show with her eldest daughter. In any case, Dee seems not to highly value the support and approval of Maggie and Mama concerning her decisions. Unthreatened and full of confidence, Dee appears to be insensitive and arrogant, and Mama even perceives her praiseworthy characteristics as irritating and excessive. Mama sees Dee’s hunger for understanding essentially as an instigation, an audacious behavior by which she asserts superiority over her sibling and mother. Additionally, Dee is portrayed as condescending, professing how devoted she is to even visit Mama and Maggie in spite of what shelter they choose to occupy, “She wrote me once that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us” (Walker, 7). Far from flagging a fresh and brand-new Dee or genuinely being an act of resistance, the new persona, Wangero, appears to be seeking attention for ploy with regards to the typical self-centeredness of Dee. Apparently, Dee says she is regaining her heritage, yet she has disregarded it.
With the characterization of Dee, Walker challenges people who dismiss and disregard their heritage including separatists and activists. Notably, these people like to connect with an idealized Africa rather than with the rough truths and classes that define the African American experience. Both Dee and Hakim are adjusted to the dynamic belief system, which clearly distinguishes itself from the labor-intensive, physical, and earthy Mama and Maggie’s way of life. Dee is captivated by their rustic authenticity, taking photos like they are subjects of a narrative or a documentary, and in so doing viably withdraws herself from her family. ‘She stoops down quickly and lines up picture after picture of me sitting there in front of the house with Maggie cowering behind me.”(Walker, 7). Instead of honoring and adopting her origins entirely, Dee despises her people and heritage, regarding herself to be above them. Dee imagines herself a journalist with a strong understanding of her life, yet this knowledge is sanitized as opposed to edified by education and her personal hypocrisy.
During dinner, the shift of attitude of Dee is revealed. Her boyfriend, Hakim refuses to consume pork and collards, calling them ‘unclean.’ Dee eats her food like a tourist who has just realized their favorite ethnic meal. She gets excited about butter churn, the benches, and different articles around the house. She finds them commendable and quaint showpieces for her loft. Dee then focuses on a few quilts that were assembled by her grandmother, Big Dee, and Mama. In the past, she had rejected the quilts but now needed them since they represented the historical significance of oppressed and persecuted individuals. Her education taught her the value of quilts however just as things of the past, stripped of their familial connection.
To sum up, any reader’s conclusion about Dee may, for the most part, be negative which is conceived out of her immaturity towards her family and heritage. Walker subtly weaves a subtext of Dee throughout the story, where she would have beat numerous obstacles to get to the point of her garish and loud arrival to her mother’s house.