Review of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 1
Words: 405
Reading time:
2 min
Study level: College

In her short story Everyday Use, Alice Walker characterizes the daily life of a rural African-American family to show the clashing dynamics between different understandings of African-American culture. The story revolves around Mrs. Johnson’s, that is narrator’s, experience with the visit of her daughter and her male companion. The most significant theme from the story is the contrast between different understandings of true African-American heritage and identity.

The author characterizes Dee, the narrator’s daughter, to illustrate the part of the African-American community that perceives the present identity of African-Americans as a continuation of the oppressive history. Dee protests not to be named after those who oppressed their ancestors and wants to be called by her new African name, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo (Walker, 2020). Walker (2020) also refers to Mrs. Johnson’s description of Dee’s traditional African clothing, with yellows and oranges and “earrings hanging down to her shoulders” as another way how Dee wants to represent her African heritage (Walker, 2020). More importantly, the part with the quilts most vividly illustrates Dee’s perception of African-American culture as long-forgotten, impersonal history. She wants to take quilts for “artistic” instead of everyday use (Walker, 2020). Dee consistently says to her mother and Maggie, the narrator’s daughter, that they do not understand the true African heritage and the identity that African-Americans should embrace (Walker, 2020). Thus, through depicting Dee’s character, the author illustrates one side of how African-American culture and heritage are understood.

The story contrasts Dee’s understanding to the narrator’s and Maggie’s, who represent African-American culture through retention of daily practices. On the part about quilts, the narrator says that she wants to give them to Maggie when she marries as a gift to continue family history (Walker, 2020). Mrs. Johnson’s portrayal of herself as a hardworking woman, with extensive exposure to man’s work, illustrates how the narrator feels connected to African-American culture through daily activities (Walker, 2002). Hence, by such characterization, the author demonstrates a different understanding of African-American culture whereby the culture is not just a history but is retained through daily activities and traditional objects.

By juxtaposing Dee’s perception of African-American heritage to one of the narrator’s, Alice Walker gives insight into the clashing understandings of true African-American culture and identity. While for Dee, the African-American’s past practices and objects are part of oppressive history that should be erased, for Mrs. Johnson and Maggie, daily activities and uses in themselves symbolize and perpetuate African-American tradition.


Walker, A. (2020). Everyday use. Harper’s Magazine. Web.