Unlocking the Themes and Significance of ‘Everyday Use’ by Alice Walker Essay

Assignment Question

Write a 500- to 750-word final draft essay that explains the plot elements Alice Walker uses to define the main character in, “Everyday Use?” Be sure to consider: Specific scenes in the story that define the main character. Words (language) the author uses to highlight the main character. Is the story a critique of the turn toward Africa by African Americans during the 1970s? Does Maggie’s gain of the quilts establish her as the main character? Dee’s last statements in the story?




Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” is a thought-provoking short story that delves into the intricacies of African American identity and heritage, offering a profound exploration of the contrasting characters of Dee and Maggie. The story’s plot elements, specific scenes, and the language used by the author come together to define the main character, Dee, while simultaneously critiquing the cultural shift toward Africa among African Americans during the 1970s. Through a careful analysis of these elements, this essay will illuminate how Walker’s storytelling paints a vivid picture of the complex dynamics of identity and heritage within the African American experience.

Defining the Main Character

The central character in “Everyday Use” is Dee, a young woman who has recently adopted the African name Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. A pivotal scene that underscores Dee’s character development occurs when she visits her childhood home. During this visit, she rejects the name she was given at birth and insists on being called Wangero, embodying her estrangement from her immediate family and their traditions (Walker 54). Dee’s transformation is striking, as it represents a significant disconnect from her roots, both in terms of her name and her evolving cultural identity.

Walker employs language masterfully to highlight these character differences. Dee is depicted as articulate and assertive, with a preference for words and concepts associated with African heritage. She explains that her name “Wangero” is “African,” reflecting her desire to distance herself from her family’s rural, Southern roots (Walker 56). Her choice of language symbolizes her quest for a more ‘authentic’ African identity, mirroring the broader cultural movement of the 1970s when many African Americans sought to reconnect with their African heritage.

In contrast, Maggie is portrayed as soft-spoken and lacking in confidence. She represents a character rooted in her family’s traditions and the tangible aspects of their heritage. Her speech is simple and reflective of the everyday language used within her rural home. Maggie’s character and language reflect the preservation of her family’s history and traditions, thus representing a different aspect of African American identity (Walker 55).


Critique of the Turn Toward Africa

The story can indeed be interpreted as a critique of the turn toward Africa by African Americans during the 1970s. Dee’s character embodies the extremity of this shift. Her African name and her desire to possess family quilts as ‘art’ rather than for their utilitarian purpose are manifestations of her detachment from her immediate heritage in favor of an idealized African identity. Dee’s actions can be seen as a form of cultural appropriation, where she selectively embraces aspects of African culture while rejecting the African American traditions that have been passed down through her family (Barnes 120).

Maggie’s Gain of the Quilts

Dee’s last statements in the story are particularly telling. When her mother offers her the family quilts to take with her, Dee declines, arguing that she wants the quilts for their artistic value, not as everyday objects (Walker 59). She believes that she can preserve them better than her mother or Maggie. This refusal marks a turning point in the narrative, as it is Maggie who ultimately receives the quilts. The quilts hold immense cultural significance, as they were made by the women in the family, passing down their skills and traditions from generation to generation. The fact that Maggie, who has a deep connection to her family’s heritage, inherits the quilts signifies the importance of valuing and preserving one’s cultural roots (Walker 60).


In “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker skillfully employs specific scenes and language to define the main character, Dee, and highlight the contrasting values she represents in comparison to her sister Maggie. Through Dee’s character and her actions, Walker critiques the trend among some African Americans during the 1970s to embrace an idealized African identity at the expense of their African American heritage. The story’s conclusion, with Maggie inheriting the family quilts, reinforces the importance of preserving one’s cultural roots and traditions. “Everyday Use” serves as a powerful exploration of the complexities of identity and heritage within the African American experience, offering valuable insights into the struggles and choices faced by individuals navigating the intersection of African and African American cultural identities.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who is Alice Walker?

Alice Walker is a renowned American author and activist. She is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple,” which explores themes of race, gender, and identity. Her works often center on the experiences of African American women and the complexities of their lives.

What is “Everyday Use” about?

“Everyday Use” is a short story by Alice Walker that delves into the conflict between two sisters, Dee and Maggie, over the family’s heirloom quilts. The story explores themes of heritage, identity, and cultural appropriation as it relates to African American culture.

How does “Everyday Use” critique the turn toward Africa by African Americans during the 1970s?

The story critiques this cultural shift through the character of Dee, who adopts an African name and seeks to claim her family’s quilts for their perceived African artistry, highlighting her disconnection from her African American heritage. The story raises questions about the authenticity of this turn toward Africa and the importance of preserving one’s cultural roots.

What is the significance of the quilts in “Everyday Use”?

The quilts in the story symbolize the family’s heritage and cultural traditions. They are made by the women in the family and represent a tangible connection to their history. The conflict over the quilts highlights the differing views of Dee and Maggie regarding the importance of preserving their cultural heritage.