Alice Walker's Short Story "Everyday Use"

Term Paper, 2011

18 Pages, Grade: 2,0




1. Summarisation of the content

2. Technical analysis/literary analysis

3. Didactical analysis

4. Methodical analysis
4.1 Pre-reading phase
4.2 While-reading phase
4.3 Post-reading phase

5. Conclusion

6. Works cited


This term paper provides the concept of a teaching unit concerning the short story Everyday Use by Alice Walker. Apart from the different analyses there should also be given an overview of recommendations and possibilities that could be used for creating a teaching unit.

1. Summarisation of the content

Everyday Use was published in 1973 and is basically about a black mother and her two daughters. Whereas one daughter, Dee, had the possibility to go to school and visit college, Maggie, the younger daughter, still lives with her mother and did not enjoy higher education. One day, Dee, who is accompanied by her boyfriend, visits her mother and her sister at her old home. As the story continues it becomes clear that obvious differences have developed between the opinions of Dee and her mother alternatively her sister.

2. Technical analysis / literary analysis

Superficially “Everyday Use” is only about a mother and a conflict between her two daughters who argue about the future disposition of some furniture. Having a closer look on the text and also on the social and time context it becomes obvious that Alice Walker deals in her short story actually with the cultural heritage of Afro-Americans. As already mentioned, Everyday Use was published in 1973 and this is also the time when the story is supposed to take place. Due to the success of the civil rights movement and leaders like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X the Afro-Americans “were struggling to define their personal identities in cultural terms” at that time (White 2001). Moreover, black people started to concentrate the reclaimed self-confidence in organisations like Black Power or Black Pride to express their solidarity. As a part of this movement Afro-Americans also started do rediscover their former origins and mostly wanted to forget about the American heritage that seemed to be foisted on their lives. According to White, Walker claims that this separation is on the one hand not completely possible and on the other hand not advisable, because this would be a denial of the history of blacks in America and therefore detrimental to the individual, too (cf. White 2001). Another fact that supports this theory is the name “Afro-Americans” itself. Black people fought for the prohibition of disrespectful appellations like Negro or – even worse – Nigger. They chose the name “Afro-Americans” also to emphasise their origin. But the combination of America and Africa shows the fact that cannot be denied: Black people, who live in America, of course have their original roots in Africa, but they are also characterized by the time they spent in America and these features may be neglected, but finally people would not be what they are without them.

Alice Walker succeeds in dealing with this idea by creating a conflict between a mother and her two daughters. Due to the narrowed aspect of time on the one hand and the limited factor of the pupils’ knowledge on the other hand the literary analysis is shortened to the most important facts that pupils should be aware of in the 11th or 12th grade.

Mama, as an I-narrator, leads trough the story and therefore has got a limited pint of view. As she is one of the main characters, Mama acts as an I-as-protagonist and tells the reader in the first part of the story mostly about the past of the family, the childhood and the child rearing of her two daughters. Moreover she gives a characterisation of Maggie, Dee and also herself, which is an important aspect for the reader in order to interpret the second part of the short story when Mama and Maggie meet Dee and her boyfriend. Due to this characterisation by Mama the characteristics of the figures within the story are on the one hand directly revealed by the narrator and on the other hand also indirectly shown by the characters themselves when they act in the second part. As Mama talks about her characteristics herself, she, as the narrator, gives the reader direct information about her and while acting in the second part of the story, also indirect hints that can be interpreted.

The following quotation is an example how Mama describes herself: “I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In the winter I wear flannel nightgowns to bed and overalls during the day. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man” (Walker 1998: 408).

Along with several other aspects that mostly stress the practical skills of Mama, this characterisation shows that she is proud of her competences and the ability to do almost the same hard work as good as a man could do it. The fact that she only went to school until the second grade strengthens the fact that Mama probably had no other choice than to work hard to make her living. An important characteristic that is also shown already in the beginning is her honest and direct way to express things and she makes no secret of her lack of education and refinement

In the further progress of the story the two daughters, Maggie and Dee, are described, mostly being compared with each other, due to the fact that Maggie is almost the opposite to Dee and vice versa. This means that with mentioning features of one daughter simultaneously the other daughter is described being the contrary. For instance Dee is said to be “lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure” (Walker 1998: 409). By saying this, the reader gets the direct information concerning Dee and the indirect information about Maggie, being obviously plump and with uncomely hair. In general, Dee seems to be, according to Mama’s characterisation, more beautiful than Maggie. Not only her appearance, but also the way she acts is more woman-like. . In one paragraph, for example, Mama gives a detailed description of Maggie’s motions and compares it even to an animal:

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 who is ignorant enough to be kind to him? That is the way my Maggie walks. She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle ever since the fire that burned the house to the ground. (Walker 1998: 409)

Another important fact mentioned in this quotation is the fire that once burnt down the house of the family. Maggie was obviously hurt by the fire and sustained injuries that are still visible as scars. According to White these scars are symbols for the scars that every Afro-American carries due to the “fire” of slavery (cf. White 2001).

With this appearance and way of behaving Maggie would not fit as good as Dee in the role of a representative for the Black Power movement. The black man who accompanies Dee to the meeting with her mother and sister is introduced as Hakim-a-barber and obviously Muslim. Most of the time he is addressed as Asalamalakim, because this is the way he greets Mama and Maggie. However Mama mistakably thinks this is his name. Actually he only said the usual greeting “as-salāmu ʿalaikum” that Muslims use to say. Hakim-a-barber is, as well as Dee, a representative for the reclaimed awareness and pride of being black. The fact that he is additionally Muslim may be an allusion to Malcolm X, a radical ambassador of the Black Power movement and especially of the religious-political ideas of an organization called Nation of Islam. His appearance, his language and his attitude imply that he definitely identifies with the mentioned Black Muslims, but when he is compared to the Muslims down the road “Walker is implying that Hakim-a-barber is more interested in professing the ideology of the Black Muslims than he is in the hard work of implementing their ideas” (White 2002). Another striking fact is that, although Hakim-a-barber seems to be the partner of Dee, there is no visible affection between them and it seems that both only serve as a kind of intellectual accessory for the other. This way of behaving is a sign that Dee, as well as Hakim-a-barber, are not totally aware of their consciousness and the point of view they are representing with their outer expression. Again both work as a stereotype and representative for those black people who joined all the Black Power organisations without really knowing what this was all about and a lack of dedication where the root causes of this movement were (cf. White 2002).

Up to this point of the short story Mama made almost only negative depictions about Maggie. But this changes when the most important topic of the story is placed in the center: Heritage. Not the material heritage, as it could be assumed at first due to the discussion about furniture, but the cultural heritage and the awareness of maintenance.

Superficially Dee strives to do everything to reveal and maintain her cultural roots. Among other things she changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because she believes this name reflects her cultural past more than the name which was given to her by her mother in order to bequeath the names within the family. Instead of maintaining her real cultural and familial heritage she is seeking and adapting a random African name, whose meaning she probably is not even aware of. The way Dee deals with her immaterial heritage also can be transferred to the material things she asks her mother for. The first thing she wants to have is a churn dasher. But Dee’s intention is to decorate her flat with it. She is not aware of its history and meaning, the only thing she is interested in is the ornamental and aesthetic aspect. Maggie, however, instantly knows where it comes from and that it was whittled by Aunt Dee’s first husband. Even if Mama and Maggie probably do not need the churn dasher anymore to make butter with it, they appreciate it for the immaterial meaning. But Dee said that she “can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table” (Walker 1998: 412). More or less its real virtue is not only misused but also degraded, because it shall be placed merely on the alcove.

The second things Dee wants to have from her mother are the quilts, which were hand-made by her grandmother. Again she does not realize that these quilts represent, due to the various compositions of cloths from her ancestors, the development of her family, her sibship and actually her own history. The fact that several members of the family worked on these quilts and passed them on to the younger strengthens the connection between the generations, too. Dee unconditionally wants to have the quilts, she also realizes that they have got a long history and she appreciates them for being handmade by her grandmother. According to the text she definitely knows that these quilts are something special, a rarity and cannot be bought. Though Mama does not want to give them to Dee, she already promised Maggie that she will get them. “They are priceless!” Dee says furiously at one passage and stresses the material as well as the immaterial aspect, which she is definitely aware of (Walker 1998: 412). Whereas Dee would not use the quilts but hang them on the wall as a reminder of her higher social and economic status, Mama and Maggie see the practical aspect and want them for everyday use, as a reminder of her Grandma Dee (cf. White 2002).

Another reason why Mama does not want to hand them to Dee is that she once offered her a quilt when she went to college. Dee did not want to take it with her then, because she thought it was old-fashioned and out of style (cf. Walker 1998: 413). Mama and Dee discuss about the disposition of the quilts and whereas Dee is afraid of Maggie using them for everyday use, this is exactly what Mama wants. With doing so they sooner or later will tear, but as Maggie knows how to quilt, she learnt it from Grandma Dee and Big Dee, she will be able to seam the ripped patch and at the same time broaden the history of the family with adding her personal character. As the argument between Mama and Dee does not stop, Maggie accommodates to her sister and offers her to take the quilts, because she, probably in contrast to her sister, “can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 1998: 413). Due to this statement Mama completely realizes who of her daughters really is aware of the cultural knowledge and whom to give the quilts. She takes the quilts away from Dee and puts them into Maggie’s lap. At the same time she offers Dee to take some of the other quilts, but not the implied ones. Dee reacts with incomprehension and leaves after she claimed that Maggie and Mama just do not understand their heritage. But in fact it is exactly vice-versa and Dee is the one who has not understand what tradition and cultural heritage is really about.

3. Didactical analysis

According to Burgstein intercultural competence is the ability to work effectively with people from a different cultural background. The emotional competence and the intercultural sensibility are very important, because these skills enable the individual to consider the concepts of perception, thinking, feeling and of acting when dealing with a foreign culture. If the individual has got intercultural competence, he or she puts his or her own experiences aside while interacting with a foreign individual and is open-minded to learn new things about the other culture (cf. Burgstein 2011).

The curriculum for grammar schools in Bavaria assigns short stories, as well as the topic of intercultural competence, to the 11th and 12th grade (cf. Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Unterricht und Kultus 2003).

The handling of texts and media is a central issue of the curriculum. The pupils should deepen their knowledge and skills concerning different types of texts within different media. Moreover, the focus is also on the linguistic and stylistic as well as on the formal and structural analysis of texts. The gained experiences, techniques and knowledge can be used interdisciplinary.

According to the topic of intercultural learning and the Landeskunde, pupils should be confronted with situations of their personal field of experience and of the public life. Furthermore, the teacher should present topics with global meaning so that the pupils also gain knowledge about cultures that go beyond the British and American one. Due to the limited time frame pupils only deal with the basic aspects and the most important issues which they use to compare with their own and other cultures. With doing so they learn to respect other attitudes, behavior patterns and value systems and be open-minded and tolerant. By putting themselves in the positions of the representatives of the different cultures the pupils advance their intercultural 6392competence and learn how to use this knowledge flexibly. Great importance is accorded to the reception and reflection of as current as possible events. Intensive practice allows and alleviates the identification of correlations and comprehensive complexities. At best pupils should be aware of the more and more growing connections between different cultures and tune in to developments also outside of the EFL classroom to gain holistic skills of intercultural competence (cf. Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Unterricht und Kultus 2003).

There are various subject areas in the curriculum that can be covered while reading Everyday Use in class. It depends on the individual case which area is preferred or how the different topics are allocated.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Alice Walker's Short Story "Everyday Use"
University of Passau
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alice, walker, short, story, everyday
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Martin Eder (Author), 2011, Alice Walker's Short Story "Everyday Use", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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