Changes Essay

In ?Everyday Use? by Alice Walker she is making a statement about the Americanization of African?culture. Dee also known as Wangero represents the “new black,” with her brightly colored clothing. Maggie remains traditional: the ?unchanged, unaffected bystander. Walker uses characters from both sides of the cultural field, conveniently cast as sisters in the story. However the characters in the story never directly mention their feelings about the popularization of African tradition, Walker in someway gets the reader to believe this popularization itself can actually turn into a form of exploitation. By telling the story from the mother’s point of view, Walker’s representation of Dee is seeped in irony, and therefore Dee’s love of her African heritage becomes an exploitation of it.

Since the mother is so closely related to the characters in the story, her perception of them is biased. In the beginning of the story the mother speaks of Dee’s actions in the past. Walker uses this point of view to her advantage, because while the reader is familiar with Dee’s somewhat stereotypical “blacksploitive” personality, this aspect of her personality remains completely foreign to her mother, the narrator, who describes it with an innocent wonder. Even then she displayed an arrogance that isolated her mother and younger sister, but the mother was too busy being proud of her daughter’s achievements to notice. She says, “At sixteen she had a ?style of her own, and she knew what style was. She used to read to us, without pity. [Seated] trapped and ignorant underneath her voice.” The mother admits to her own ignorance in front of Dee, but does not seem bothered by it. The reader, on the other hand, immediately knows what kind of character the mother is dealing with.

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Dee is brusque, she asks to keep items from the house, items Maggie and her mother still use every day. She talks down to her mother and sister. A tourist in her own culture, we know this only because of small hints the narrator gives, all dropped without passing judgment on Dee. This technique is key to the story. It allows the reader, and the reader only, to pass judgment upon Dee, therefore understanding the theme of the story. When Dee insists she take the quilts instead of leaving them to Maggie, the narrator admits to confusion. Stumped, she asks, “What would you do with them?” Dee wants to hang them on the wall, “as if that was the only thing you could do with quilts,” the narrator comments. Naturally Dee’s interest in decoration baffles the narrator, and it is this simplified confusion that helps the reader sympathize with the narrator and Maggie, and loathe Dee’s presence.

In further illustrating the gap between mother and daughter, and topaint Wangero as an intruder with unrealistic expectations of her traditional African American family, Walker allows the mother to describe a dream she once had about “Dee.” The dream demonstrates the difference between what the mother actually is, and how she would like to appear in front of Dee. Though the mother is possibly closer to her African heritage than Dee, she still feels embarrassed in her daughter’s presence. “In real life,” she says, “I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.” In the dream, however, where the mother appears on a television show with Dee, she is “the way [her] daughter would want [her] to be: a hundred pounds lighter, [her] skin like an uncooked barley pancake.” The mother describes her ideal skin shade as the color of an uncooked barley pancake, a food that is perhaps tan at best. It is the reader’s, and Walker’s responsibility to understand the real theme imbedded in the story.

In the same way that the reader dislikes Wangero in “Everyday Use,” so Alice Walker seems to dislike the type of black American who uses his or her cultural identity as a status symbol. It is not a hatred that Walker displays in her story, but rather a playful poking-fun-of, which wouldn’t have been possible had “Everyday Use” not been told from the perspective of the mother. This is exactly how the point of view affected the theme of “Everyday Use”.


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