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Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Analysis Of The Character Of Hakim

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In the story “Everyday Use”, the author uses heritage to Even though he is marginal to the story in “Everyday Use,” I want to discuss the character of Hakim, as his presence is significant to the topic at hand and discussing him provides some entry into the concepts I want to explore. While never explicitly stated, one may surmise that Hakim is or considers himself to be a Black Muslim. The story infers this by his greeting of, his refusal of pork at the meal and calling it, and the mother’s own inference, saying to him, “‘You must belong to those beef-cattle peoples down the road”. His alliance with Black Islam seems to portray Hakim as politically minded or that communities of racism and promotion of African-American independence and self-initiative. Certainly, the mother’s admiration for the commune for its refusal to succumb to racist threats is apparent. She says of them, “When white folks poisoned some of the herd the men stayed up all night with rifles in their hands. I walked a mile and a half just to see the sight” (54). In this way, Black Islam embodies the ideals of African-American pride and empowerment. But the pursuit of these ideals is maintained through practical means. The mother says of the commune’s members, “Always too busy: feeding the cattle, fixing the fences, putting up saltlick shelters, throwing down hay” (54). And Cowart concludes that “the neighboring Muslims have immersed themselves in agrarian practicality” (173). The purpose of the commune, undoubtedly, is to provide its members with enough economic support to be self-sufficient, thereby reducing the influence from those on the outside who do not share the commune’s ideals. Moreover, the overt threat made on the commune is not idealistic but practical poisoning the cattle, the commune’s primary means of economic support. Or, more accurately, the poisoning threatens the commune’s ideas through its practical support as the two are interconnected. Hakim, however, does not appear to be a good representative of these or any other ideas. He acts respectfully when he greets the mother and Maggie. But he soon behaves in a rather pretentious manner when he tries to shake hands with Maggie in a “fancy” way she does not know and then “soon gives up on” her (53). Rather than considering a form of greeting with which Maggie would most likely be familiar, or rather than taking the time to teach her something new, Hakim does just enough to demonstrate what he knows; his actions are self-serving rather than relationship-building. More significantly, Hakim’s initial respect for the mother is undermined by the condecension he and Dee/Wangero1 exhibit during the conversation they have over Dee/Wangero’s decision to change her name. At one point, the mother observes, “He just stood there grinning, looking down on me like somebody inspecting a Model A car.

Occasionally, he and Wangero sent eye signals over my head” (54). Here, Hakim looks down on the mother not only literally but also figuratively, giving the impression that he is rather shallow and self-centered, far from idealistic. In the case of idealism and pragmatism, it is not that one is good, Even though he is marginal to the story in “Everyday Use,” I want to discuss the character of Hakim, as his presence is significant to the topic at hand and discussing him provides some entry into the concepts I want to explore. While never explicitly stated, one may surmise that Hakim is or considers himself to be a Black Muslim. The story infers this by his greeting of, his refusal of pork at the meal and calling it, and the mother’s own inference, saying to him, “‘You must belong to those beef-cattle peoples down the road”. His alliance with Black Islam seems to portray Hakim as politically minded or that communities of racism and promotion of African-American independence and self-initiative. Certainly, the mother’s admiration for the commune for its refusal to succumb to racist threats is apparent. She says of them, “When white folks poisoned some of the herd the men stayed up all night with rifles in their hands. I walked a mile and a half just to see the sight” (54). In this way, Black Islam embodies the ideals of African-American pride and empowerment. But the pursuit of these ideals is maintained through practical means. The mother says of the commune’s members, “Always too busy: feeding the cattle, fixing the fences, putting up saltlick shelters, throwing down hay” (54). And Cowart concludes that “the neighboring Muslims have immersed themselves in agrarian practicality” (173). The purpose of the commune, undoubtedly, is to provide its members with enough economic support to be self-sufficient, thereby reducing the influence from those on the outside who do not share the commune’s ideals. Moreover, the overt threat made on the commune is not idealistic but practical poisoning the cattle, the commune’s primary means of economic support. Or, more accurately, the poisoning threatens the commune’s ideas through its practical support as the two are interconnected. Hakim, however, does not appear to be a good representative of these or any other ideas. He acts respectfully when he greets the mother and Maggie. But he soon behaves in a rather pretentious manner when he tries to shake hands with Maggie in a “fancy” way she does not know and then “soon gives up on” her (53). Rather than considering a form of greeting with which Maggie would most likely be familiar, or rather than taking the time to teach her something new, Hakim does just enough to demonstrate what he knows; his actions are self-serving rather than relationship-building. More significantly, Hakim’s initial respect for the mother is undermined by the condescension he and Dee/Wangero1 exhibit during the conversation they have over Dee/Wangero’s decision to change her name. At one point, the mother observes, “He just stood there grinning, looking down on me like somebody inspecting a Model A car. Every once in a while, he and Wangero sent eye signals over my head” (54). Here, Hakim looks down on the mother not only literally but also figuratively, giving the impression that he is rather shallow and self-centered, far from idealistic.and the other is evil but that both have the potential to be both good and evil. Or, perhaps more to the point, every idealistic pursuit involves pragmatic action, and every pragmatic pursuit implicates some ideal. And this understanding is crucial because it reveals the instabilities in polarized debates and uncovers the wider issues at stake. Even though he is marginal to the story in “Everyday Use,” I want to discuss the character of Hakim, as his presence is significant to the topic at hand and discussing him provides some entry into the concepts I want to explore. While never explicitly stated, one may surmise that Hakim is or considers himself to be a Black Muslim. The story infers this by his greeting of, his refusal of pork at the meal and calling it, and the mother’s own inference, saying to him, “‘You must belong to those beef-cattle peoples down the road”. His alliance with Black Islam seems to portray Hakim as politically minded or that communities of racism and promotion of African-American independence and self-initiative. Certainly, the mother’s admiration for the commune for its refusal to succumb to racist threats is apparent. She says of them, “When white folks poisoned some of the herd the men stayed up all night with rifles in their hands. I walked a mile and a half just to see the sight” (54). In this way, Black Islam embodies the ideals of African-American pride and empowerment. But the pursuit of these ideals is maintained through practical means. The mother says of the commune’s members, “Always too busy: feeding the cattle, fixing the fences, putting up saltlick shelters, throwing down hay” (54). And Cowart concludes that “the neighboring Muslims have immersed themselves in agrarian practicality” (173). The purpose of the commune, undoubtedly, is to provide its members with enough economic support to be self-sufficient, thereby reducing the influence from those on the outside who do not share the commune’s ideals. Moreover, the overt threat made on the commune is not idealistic but practical poisoning the cattle, the commune’s primary means of economic support. Or, more accurately, the poisoning threatens the commune’s ideas through its practical support as the two are interconnected. Hakim, however, does not appear to be a good representative of these or any other ideas. He acts respectfully when he greets the mother and Maggie. But he soon behaves in a rather pretentious manner when he tries to shake hands with Maggie in a “fancy” way she does not know and then “soon gives up on” her (53). Rather than considering a form of greeting with which Maggie would most likely be familiar, or rather than taking the time to teach her something new, Hakim does just enough to demonstrate what he knows; his actions are self-serving rather than relationship-building. More significantly, Hakim’s initial respect for the mother is undermined by the condescension he and Dee/Wangero1 exhibit during the conversation they have over Dee/Wangero’s decision to change her name. At one point, the mother observes, “He just stood there grinning, looking down on me like somebody inspecting a Model A car. Every once in a while, he and Wangero sent eye signals over my head” (54). Here, Hakim looks down on the mother not only literally but also figuratively, giving the impression that he is rather shallow and self-centered, far from idealistic.

1 Identifying this character poses a challenge to critics. Her given name is “Dee,” and she is largely (though not exclusively) identified by that term in the story itself. However, she makes it clear that she prefers to be called “Wangero,” and the mother makes some attempt to comply with this wish. Some critics will continue to use her given name while others address her by her chosen name. I attempt to have it both ways by identifying her as “Dee/Wangero” (despite its awkwardness) because both names and their implications are vital to the story’s dynamics. In a sense, one may think of “Dee/Wangero” as the binary oppositions with which the character struggles, which in turn may inform the issues of African-American identity and identification. Yet Hakim is seen as most pragmatic in his response to the mother’s question about his affiliation with the commune. When she asks if he is one of them, he responds, “‘I accept some of their doctrines, but farming and raising cattle is not my style’” (55). By stating that the hard, hands-on labor of the commune is not his “style,” Hakim unwittingly reveals the limitation of his idealism and the extent of his pragmatism. He will “‘accept doctrines,’” but whatever support he lends for their maintenance cannot cramp his “style.” Certainly, it is this laughable notion that the practical support for ideas must accord with a sense of style that infers that Hakim embraces Black Islam not out of a sense of devotion but out of a sense of personal fulfillment that does not go so far as making sacrifices or promoting community (as the members of the commune do). Of course, it would be a mistake to condemn Hakim too vigorously; he follows a long line of idealists who could not or would not submit to the practical rigors of communal life. The significant point to remember is that his character serves as a basic introduction for the ways ideals can be employed to mask one’s pragmatic pursuits. But the portrayal of Hakim as idealistically superficial pales in comparison to that of Dee/Wangero. Indeed, most readers see her in a negative light despite the admirable ideals she maintains. Undoubtedly, this is due in part to the story’s narrative perspective. This is the mother’s story, and she tells it in the first person. Dee/Wangero is her antagonist and the mother do a good job portraying herself in a sympathetic light. The mother is not without her shortcomings, however. Particularly, her speech and behavior strongly suggest that she has conflicted thoughts and feelings toward both of her daughters as well as herself. Toward Dee/Wangero she exhibits pride, anger, envy, and resentment; toward Maggie, she exhibits pride, guilt, sympathy, and disgust; toward herself, she exhibits pride, inferiority, and shame. The ramifications of these issues are beyond the scope of this study, so it is necessary to point out that her attributes that do fall within the scope of this study and therefore receive close examination here, do not exhaust the analysis of her character.

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In any event, this character most readily exemplifies how idealism and pragmatism are always already intertwined. Dee/Wangero’s ideas are revealed in her espousal of the Black Pride movement. She has left the family’s rural and impoverished state in pursuit of college education, and she returns with a strong appreciation for African heritage. The appreciation is initially shown in her manner of dress (the clothing consists of “yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun,” earrings “hanging down to her shoulders,” and “Bracelets dangling and making noises” [52]) that appears—at least stereotypically—African. Even more significantly, she now has taken an African name, Wangero, over her gave European-derived name, Dee. Dee/Wangero’s sense of heritage is expressed further as she recognizes several household items to be significant folk artifacts. She marvels over “how lovely [the] benches are” (55). And she recognizes the ornamental potential of such implements by desiring to turn the butter churn top into a centerpiece and “‘to do something artistic with the dasher’” (56). Yet her value of heritage is most seen in her appreciation of the mother’s hand-sewn quilts. Rather than put them to use, Dee/Wangero wants to hang them, recognizing them as works of art. In fact, she even declares that “‘they’re priceless’” (57, emphasis original). Here, Dee/Wangero’s belief that the worth of these heirlooms cannot be measured by money reflects an idealization of both her African and African-American heritage. It is not difficult to discern the shortcomings in Dee/ Wangero’s ideals, however, and most critics of the story effectively point these out. But among the criticism, I have found, only Susan Farrell discusses at length the positive attributes of the character. Farrell points out that “While Dee is certainly insensitive and selfish to a certain degree, she nevertheless offers a view of heritage and a strategy for contemporary

African-Americans to cope with an oppressive society that is, in some ways, more valid than that offered by Mama and Maggie” (179). Dee/Wangero understands the value of what the dominant society says is worthless. And as such, she recognizes the value of her heritage and herself. Also, while most critics discuss what is problematic about Dee/Wangero’s desire to change her name, Farrell brings the discussion back to the point that “Dee’s assertion that the name comes from ‘the people who oppress’ her is accurate” (183). This is the mother’s story, and she tells it in the first person. Dee/Wangero is her antagonist and the mother do a good job portraying herself in a sympathetic Wangero, more than any other character in the story, identifies and pursues corrective measures against the oppression of African-American society and culture. Or, again as Farrell puts it, “Dee refuses to meekly accept the status quo” (181). But even Farrell admits that Dee/Wangero has her faults, and these can be collectively described as a failure to admit, both to herself and to her family, how her pragmatic concerns are intertwined with the ideals of heritage and Black Pride. The consensus among the critics concerning Dee/Wangero seems to be, in the words of Houston A. Baker, Jr. and Charlotte PierceBaker, that “Assured by the makers of American fashion that ‘black’ is currently ‘beautiful,’ she has confirmed her own ‘style’ to that notion. Hers is a trendy ‘blackness’ cultivated as art and costume” (160). This is not to say there are not or should not be pragmatic advantages to the pursuit of ideas. Instead, Dee/ Wangero demonstrates the detrimental consequences of failing to recognize how idealism and pragmatism are intertwined and how privileging one undermines both. The chinks in Dee/Wangero’s idealistic armor are seen early in the story. For someone who claims a rich understanding of heritage, she is remarkably distant—economically, psychologically—from her closest connections to that heritage: her immediate family. Baker and Pierce-Baker (161), Raimund Borgmeier, Sam Whitsitt, and Charles E. Wilson (176) all make this point, in some way and in varying degrees, in relation to Dee/Wangero’s photography at the beginning of her visit. Borgmeier observes,

“It is as if before entering that scene Dee wants to make sure that she has a picture of herself not being part of the picture. She wants to frame that world, define its borders, give it wholeness which then allows her to handle it without being a part of it” (66). And Whitsitt says,

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Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Analysis Of The Character Of Hakim. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/everyday-use-by-alice-walker-analysis-of-the-character-of-hakim/
“Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Analysis Of The Character Of Hakim.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/everyday-use-by-alice-walker-analysis-of-the-character-of-hakim/
Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Analysis Of The Character Of Hakim. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/everyday-use-by-alice-walker-analysis-of-the-character-of-hakim/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
Everyday Use By Alice Walker: Analysis Of The Character Of Hakim [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/everyday-use-by-alice-walker-analysis-of-the-character-of-hakim/
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