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Everyday Use by Alice Walker


            
             In "Everyday Use", Alice Walker is saying that to have meaning, culture and heritage should be a part of life and not be separated and removed from "everyday use." This story is about an African American family who are living in the rural south during the late 1960's or 1970's. The Johnson's live rather poorly and they are relatively uneducated. It opens with Mrs. Johnson and Maggie, her shy younger child, awaiting a visit from the older daughter Dee who has been away to college and now lives in the city. .
             Dee's character is struggling to create an identity for herself and has chosen to embrace African tradition by changing her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. When Mrs. Johnson asks what happened to "Dee", she's told "She's dead. I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me." Mrs. Johnson is confused by this reasoning, explaining that Dee was named for her aunt Dicie, also known as Big Dee, who in turn was named after Grandma Dee who was named after her mother. We now know that while "Dee" may not be an African name, it is a familial, ancestral name, an African-American one that is personally connected to Dee. "Wangero", although African, is not directly related to her culture or personal heritage. .
             Dee has also always been scornful of her family's way of life, of their house and their possessions. Now however, she seems charmed, almost infatuated by it. She photographs the house, her mother and sister, even a cow that wanders by. She zestfully eats a traditional meal of chitlins, corn bread, greens and sweet potatoes. She admires a bench her father had made. She asks for and receives a butter churn and dasher that had been hand whittled by her uncles years before and which she intends to use as a centerpiece for her alcove table. Then she discovers two handmade quilts that had been pieced by her Grandma Dee and quilted by her mother and Big Dee. They were made from scraps of her grandparents clothing, old dresses and shirts, even a civil war uniform, and all sewn by hand.


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