Alice Walker’s Everyday Use: Theory as the General Concept

Everyday Use was publicized in Alice Walker’s collection, In Love and Trouble. It has grown in popularity ever since its publication in 1973. Everyday Use establishes Walker’s use of African American culture and heritage during her young adult livelihood in literature. Walker uses folk culture and family identity during the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties and the different lifestyles and beliefs of black people to focus on the story and the ideology of the story. How if one lived in a rural mostly agrarian part of the United States the Civil Rights Movement was acknowledged but not as big of a deal compared to those who had the ability to get out and explore and lived closer to an urban area. Alice Walker’s Everyday Use uses reader-response theory for the overall story concept, and also uses psychoanalytic theory in both Mama and Dee/Wangero to help understand the character's beliefs and dilemmas.

First, the overall story uses reader-response theory in many ways. Though it doesn’t directly state where the story takes place one can assume it's somewhere in a rural part of the southern United States. One can also assume that the story takes place during the civil rights movement of the sixties here some activists of the movement would travel to Africa as a way of connecting to their “true heritage” by adopting African culture and names. Another minor detail is Hakim-a-barber, when he first arrives, he greets Mama and Maggie by saying “Asalamakim” leading to believe that Hakim-a-barber is most likely Muslim. The quilts and the story as a general concept are symbolism for Alice Walker’s culture and its history as well as her own life. The perception of the story also changes the first time someone reads the short story it feels like it's just about the protagonist not getting the quilt and then the second time the detailing starts to be seen differently. The second time one reads the short story it's more understanding and it's not just about a quilt it's more symbolic. Thus, the establishing reader-response theory is due to the use of use of background knowledge and perception to fill in the gaps of the story.

Second, Everyday Use also uses psychoanalytic theory to help understand Mama’s cultural beliefs and dilemma in the short story. In the beginning, Mama hints that she is envious and yet has so much admiration towards Dee’s bravery in the resistance and boldness. Mama is also waiting for Dee in the porch longing for a redemption story than a story about her finally getting to dee her daughter after many years. However, when Dee comes home, she is faced with a change in her daughter and her daughter’s name. Dee has changed her name to Wangero claiming how she will not be named after the oppressor. This causes Mama to be a little angry since she feels she knows and understands their family’s culture and heritage. Dee was named after her aunt and her grandmother and many ancestors before that possibly dated back to the Civil War. For Mama, her culture and heritage are those people the ones that had most likely lived as slaves, not the people that lived in Africa. Towards the end of the story, Mama is faced with a dilemma between both of her daughters. Dee wants the quilt that was promised to be given to Maggie when she got married. Dee is known for being the favored child and getting everything, she wants, and is not afraid to back down. In the end, Mama does not let Dee get the quilt by using Maggie’s appreciation of traditions and Dee’s stubbornness to not cave in. Thus, the author uses psychoanalytic theory to better understand Mama’s point of view of her cultural beliefs as well as her dilemma.

Lastly, the author uses psychoanalytic theory to better understand Dee/Wangero. Dee has not seen her mother in years due to her being in Africa and she has adopted her African name, Wangero. This is since she refuses to be named after the “oppressor” and that Dee is dead. Wangero does not believe in traditions like Maggie does, she sees that the tools and old pieces that have been in the family should be put on display not be put into use. For example, the churn should be used as a centerpiece, not for actual use. The churn also symbolizes how just like the churn handle, she does not see herself as being part of the whole family. Wangero in a way wants to reject her family’s culture of oppression and instead wants to acknowledge the African lifestyle. Dee believes herself to be above Maggie, and in a way, she also believes to be above where she came from and her mother. When she asks her Mama for the quilts and her request is denied, she turns defensive saying how Maggie would not take care of them and they deserve to be hanged not used. She claims Maggie would tear them and how she liked and wanted the quilts. Thus, the author using psychoanalytic theory to help understand Dee/ Wangero on her beliefs.

Overall, Walker’s Everyday Use uses reader-response theory as the overall concept of the story as well as also uses psychoanalytic theory for both Mama and Dee/ Wangero to understand their beliefs and dilemmas. Everyday Use uses reader-response theory as the general concept since one can read with or without certain background knowledge and get different results after reading the text. The author also uses psychoanalytic theory to help better understand Mama’s cultural beliefs and dilemmas when it came to her background and standing up to Wangero/Dee. Lastly, the author uses psychoanalytic theory to understand Wangero/ Dee’s beliefs on changing her name and having old pieces around Mama’s home be kept as artifacts and should not be used. Thus, the author establishes reader-response as the overall theory of the story as well as using psychoanalytic theory for both Mama and Dee/ Wangero to help understand their beliefs and dilemmas.  

07 July 2022
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