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Know Where You Come From: Analysis of Everyday Use and Sonny's Blues

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The effects of the Jim Crow Laws lasted until the mid-1960s, since Everyday Use was set in the late 1960s early 1970s even, they got effect from the laws. During this time of age many African Americans were struggling to reshape and regain their social and political identity in American society. At the time scholars became interested in the African heritage that had survived throughout Slavery and Jim Crow Laws, they wanted to know how these traditions were still present within the 1960s and 1970s.

In Everyday Use Author Alice Walker paints a beautiful picture of the importance of understanding and comprehending our daily lives with the traditions and cultural awareness of our people. Alice views the different sides of heritage in the main characters of this story who are Maggie, Dee, and her mother. Dee can be seen as a dynamic, materialistic and educated individual about modern-day life in which heritage and culture are respected for their ‘trendy’ and aesthetic appeals. Momma reflects a way of life that respects cultural heritage and its meaning.

Dee in the story has caused herself to be blinded to her heritage’s values norms, it seems like a personal provocation from where her people come from that she fails to agree. Dee opposes whatever has conspired to subjugate the Black race in the past. She seeks to believe that this family dimension has no place in her life by taking an African name, ignoring her family’s origins, and wearing African clothing. Yet in doing so she still refuses the positive things that her friends and family have made for her. She needs the quilt merely as an accessory, she says, “Maggie knows how to quit” (Tate 59). Regardless of the love and goodies that come with it, her sister wants the quilt, but it is not anything to be ashamed of given her link to her past and grandma. When she tells Dee to keep the quilts, Dee “grasps like a bee had stung her” and exclaimed, “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” (Walker 477).

While Maggie isn’t almost as ‘sophisticated’ as her sister, she is far more grounded beyond her sister’s imaginations. Dee will never be ‘successful’ as she has lost sight and sense of who she is which came from her ancestors, struggling to survive to have a better life for their descendants than they had. It can be noted that this story contains a conflict between the two women where Dee is struggling to create an identity for her. It was a kind of tradition that she was named after her grandmother and she wanted to change the name. Taking her daughter in Momma states, “ have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone ignorant enough to be kind to them? That is the way my Maggie walks” (Walker 471).

The mother’s similarly and rhetorical question draws the reader in and illustrates in a new light of pity. Maggie is portrayed as a scarred, simple girl, who is often taken advantage of and walked on. The empathy felt towards Maggie contrasts greatly with Dee’s description that is said to be finished with “A dress so loud it hurt my eyes…It (the air) is as black as night around the edges are two long pigtails that rope about like small lizards disappearing behind her ears” (Walker 473).

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Baldwin’s ‘Sonny’s Blues’ confronts the rivalry between two distant brothers; Sonny and the narrator, who attempt to find themselves in a dark reality. The story follows the older brother as he struggles to identify with his brother, Sonny, who is in ruin and trouble. With their parents gone, the elder brother attempts to contain and control Sonny’s actions and notes about his jazz d musician dream that “it seemed beneath him, somehow. I had never thought about it before, had been forced to, but I suppose I had always put jazz musicians in a class with daddy” (Baldwin 44). Sonny’s brother deepens the divide between himself and Sonny by assuming the mentality of and acting like the absent parents.

The extent of the divide is demonstrated by the diction of the rebuttal statement from sonny stressing that he is serious. The words in italics further illustrate the intensity of that confrontation by adding color to the words spoken. The younger brother just wanted to be himself and happy; he didn’t want to tell his older brother what to do or be condescending. The narrator finally realized this year later as shown in the statement that he realized with his brother’s mocking look that there was standing between us, beyond the power of time or forgiveness forever. The finality of the actions of the older brother is obvious for the ‘forward’ diction. The narrator had never known his brother and was therefore removed from the life of his brother.

The problem is that the narrator and his brother have so long fought that they cannot see that they can help each other rediscover their respective identities. The old brother has valued education and wants to reform his brother so that he can live better. Finally, the narrator saw how little he understood of his brother, remarking when listening to him on the piano. Now instead of warning his brother about the heroin that had flowed through his blood vessels, the narrator sees “royal blood” in his brother’s veins. This metaphor depicted the true identity of the narrator’s brother and underlines the rift between the two brothers (Baldwin 45). This rift caused Sonny to find a new family which he did in the jazz music in his ragtag group. The narrator always doubted the career choice of his brother and, as a result, a conflict arose between them. Sonny realized, however, that his fate had been decided, and he’d been made a musician. The conflict forced the brothers apart as they clashed over ideas and philosophies of difference.

This story has a tremendous impact on learners because, despite the choices they had made in their life experiences, it shows the two brothers reconcile. On the surface, no two brothers could appear any more distinct than Sonny and the narrator. The narrator is a respectable teacher and a man with a family. He’s cautious and proud of his lifetime achievement. In contrast, Sonny is passionate, and he’s not afraid to take risks in life to follow the dreams he wants. Sonny and the narrator, who we meet in flashbacks, have lost their parents through an accident. The two brothers are choosing different paths in life to escape the realities of their past. Through education, family, and respectability the narrator escaped his way. By contrast, by plunging himself into a private world of introspection, drugs and his passion for music, Sonny escaped his past.

From Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’ story it clearly explains home as the place where you can find support for your family and morals. In this story, it is not only abstract ideas which can represent the idea of a home such as “home is where your heart is,”

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Know Where You Come From: Analysis of Everyday Use and Sonny’s Blues. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from
“Know Where You Come From: Analysis of Everyday Use and Sonny’s Blues.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Know Where You Come From: Analysis of Everyday Use and Sonny’s Blues. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jan. 2023].
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