Broward College Everyday Use Poem by Alice Walker Analysis – Excelsior Writers | excelsiorwriters.com
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One of the issues explored in this story is the relationship between mothers and daughters. What, specifically, do you think is being said about that relationship?

Find at least one quotation from the story that helps to support your answer and use proper MLA to cite it. Minimum is 100 words or more not less. Please ask if you have any questions.

Poem available below:

Title:

Everyday Use

Short story, 1994

Author(s):

Walker, Alice (American novelist)

American Novelist ( 1944 – )

Other Names Used:

Walker, Alice Malsenior;

Source:

In Love & Trouble

. Alice Walker. San Diego: Harcour

t, Brace and Comp

any, 1973. p47.

Document Type:

Short story

Full Text:

COPYRIGHT 1973 Alice Walker

Original Language:

English

Text :

for your grandmama

I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean

and wavy yesterday afternoon. A yard like this is more comforta

ble

than most people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an ex

tended living room. When the hard

clay is swept clean as a floor

and the

fine sand around the edges lined with tiny, irregular grooves, anyone can come and sit and look up into the elm tree and wait f

or the

breezes that never come inside the house.

Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in comers, homely and ashamed of the bum scars do

wn

her arms and legs, eying her sister with a mixture of envy and aw

e. She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of o

ne hand,

that “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her.

You’ve no doubt seen those TV shows where the child who has “mad

e it” is confronted, as a surprise, by her own mother and fathe

r,

tottering in weakly from backstag

e. (A pleasant surprise, of course: What would

they do if parent and child came on the show on

ly to

curse out and insult each other?) On TV moth

er and child embrace and smile into each ot

her’s faces. Sometime

s the mother and fa

ther

weep, the child wraps them in her arms an

d leans across the table to tell how she would not have made it without their help. I

have

seen these programs.

Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and

I are suddenly brought together on a TV program of this sort. Out of a dark and

soft-seated limousine I am ushered into a bright room filled with

many people. There I meet a smiling, gray, sporty man like Jo

hnny

Carson who shakes my hand and tells me what a fine girl I have.

Then we are on the stage and Dee

is embracing me with tears in

her

eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid

, even though she has told me once th

at she thinks orchids are tacky flowers.

In real life 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. My fat k

eeps me hot in zero weather. I can work ou

tside all

day, breaking ice to get water for washing; I can eat pork liver

cooked over the open fire mi

nutes after it comes steaming from

the hog.

One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledge hammer and had the meat hung up to chill

before

nightfall. But of course all this does not show on television. I

am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds l

ighter,

my skin like an uncooked barley

pancake. My hair glistens in the hot bright lights. Johnny Carson has much to do to keep up wit

h my

quick and witty tongue.

But that is a mistake. I know even before I wake up. Who ev

er knew a Johnson with a quick

tongue? Who can even imagine me

looking a strange white man in the eye? It seems to me I have talked

to them always with one foot raised in flight, with my hea

d

turned in whichever way is farthest from them. Dee, though. Sh

e would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of

her

nature.

“How do I look, Mama?” Maggie says, showing just enough of her thin body enveloped in pink skirt and red blouse for me to know

she’s there, almost hidden by the door.

“Come out into the yard,” I say.

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, ch

in on chest, eyes on ground, f

eet in

shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground.

Dee is lighter than Maggie, wi

th nicer hair and a fuller figure. She’s a woman now, though sometimes I forget. How long ago was

it

that the other house burned? Ten, twelve y

ears? Sometimes I can still hear the flames

and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, he

r hair

smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flak

es. Her eyes seemed stretched

open, blazed open by the flames

reflected

in them. And Dee. I see her standing off

under the sweet gum tree she used to dig gum out of; a look of concentration on her fa

ce as

she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot brick chimney. Why don’t you do a dance around th

e

ashes? I’d wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much.

I used to think she hated Maggie, too. But that was before we ra

ised the money, the church and me

, to send her to Augusta to sc

hool.

She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, othe

r folks’ habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ign

orant

underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn’t necessarily need to

know.

Pressed us to her with the serious way she r

ead, to shove us away at just

the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understa

nd.

Dee wanted nice things. A yellow organdy dress to wear to her graduation from high school; black pumps to match a green suit sh

e’d

made from an old suit somebody gave me. She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts. Her eyelids would not fli

cker

for minutes at a time. Often I fought off the temptation to shake her. At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what sty

le was.

I never had an education myself. After seco

nd grade the school was closed down. Don’t ask my why. in 1927 colored asked fewer

questions than they do now. Sometimes Magg

ie reads to me. She stumbles

along good-naturedly but can’t see well. She knows she i

s

not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by. Sh

e will marry John Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest

face) and then I’ll be free to sit here a

nd I guess just sing church songs to myself

. Although I never was a good singer. Never

could

carry a tune. I was always better at a man’s job. I used to love to milk till I was hooked in the side in ’49. Cows are soothin

g and slow

and don’t bother you, unless you try to milk them the wrong way.

I have deliberately turned my back on the

house. It is three rooms, just like the one that burned, except the roof is tin; they

don’t make

shingle roofs any more. There are no real wi

ndows, just some holes cut in the sides, like the portholes in a ship, but not roun

d and not

square, with rawhide holding the shutters up on the outside. This

house is in a pasture, too, like the other one. No doubt when

Dee sees

it she will want to tear it down. She wrote me

once that no matter where we “choose” to

live, she will manage to come see us. B

ut she

will never bring her friends. Maggie and I thought about this and

Maggie asked me, “Mama, when did Dee ever have any friends?”

She had a few. Furtive boys in pink shirts hanging about on wa

shday after school. Nervous girls who never laughed. Impressed wi

th

her they worshiped the well-turned phrase, th

e cute shape, the scalding hum

or that erupted like bubbles

in lye. She read to the

m.

When she was courting Jimmy T she didn’t have much time to pay to us, but turned all her faultfinding power on him. He flew to

marry a cheap city girl from a family

of ignorant flashy people. She hardly had time to recompose herself.

When she comes I will m

eet–but there they are!

Maggie attempts to make a dash for the house, in her shuffling wa

y, but I stay her with my hand. “Come back here,” I say. And s

he

stops and tries to dig a well in the sand with her toe.

It is hard to see them clearly through the

strong sun. But even the firs

t glimpse of leg out of the car tells me it is Dee. Her

feet were

always neat-looking, as ff God himself had

shaped them with a certain style. From th

e other side of the car comes a short, stoc

ky man.

Hair is all over his head a foot long and hanging from his chin like a kinky mule tail. I hear Maggie suck in her breath, “Uhnn

nh,” is

what it sounds like. Like when you see the wriggling end of a snake just in front of your foot on the road. “Uhnnnh.”

Dee next. A dress down to the ground, in this hot weather. A dress so loud it hurts my eyes. There are yellows and oranges enou

gh to

throw back the light of the sun. I feel my

whole face warming from the heat waves it

throws out. Earrings

gold, too,

and hangin

g down

to her shoulders. Bracelets dangling and making

noises when she moves her arm up to shak

e the folds of the dress out of her arm

pits.

The dress is loose and flows, and as she wa

lks closer, I like it. I hear Maggie go “Uhnnnh” again. It is her sister’s hair. It

stands straight

up like the wool on a sheep. It is black as night and around the edges are two long pigtails that rope about like small lizards

disappearing behind her ears.

“Wa-su-zo-Tean-o!” she says, coming on in that gliding way the dress makes her move. The short stocky fellow with the hair to h

is

navel is all grinning and he follows up with “Asalamalakim, my mother and sister!” He moves to hug Maggie but she falls back, r

ight

up against the back of my chair. I feel her trembling ther

e and when I look up I see the perspiration falling off her chin.

“Don’t get up,” says Dee. Since I am stout it takes something of

a push. You can see me trying to move a second or two before I

make

it. She turns, showing white heels through

her sandals, and goes back to

the car. Out she peeks next

with a Polaroid. She stoop

s down

quickly and lines up picture after picture of me sitting there in

front of the house with Maggie cowering behind me. She never

takes a

shot without making sure the house is included. When a cow comes nibbling around the edge of the yard she snaps it and me and

Maggie and the house. Then she puts the Po

laroid in the back seat of the car, and

comes up and kisses me on the forehead.

Meanwhile Asalamalakim is going through motions with Maggie’s hand

. Maggie’s hand is as limp as a fish, and probably as cold,

despite the sweat, and she keeps trying to pull

it back. It looks like Asalamalakim want

s to shake hands but wants to do it fan

cy. Or

maybe he don’t know how people shake hands. Anyhow, he soon gives up on Maggie.

“Well,” I say. “Dee.”

“No, Mama,” she says. “Not “Dee,” Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!”

“What happened to “Dee’?” I wanted to know.

“She’s dead,” Wangero said. “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.”

“You know as well as me you was named after your aunt Dicie,”

I said. Dicie is my sister. She named Dee. We called her “Big Dee

after Dee was born.

“But who was she named after?” asked Wangero.

“I guess after Grandma Dee,” I said.

“And who was she named after?” asked Wangero.

“Her mother,” I said, and saw Wangero was ge

tting tired. “That’s about as far back as

I can trace it,” I sa

id. Though,

in fact,

I probably

could have carried it back beyond

the Civil War through the branches.

“Well,” said Asalamalakim, “there you are.”

“Uhnnnh,” I heard Maggie say.

“There I was not,” I said, “before ‘Dic

ie’ cropped up in our family, so why

should I try to trace it that far back?”

He just stood there grinning, looking down on me like somebody inspecting a Model A car. Every once in a while he and Wangero

sent eye signals over my head.

“How do you pronounce this name?” I asked.

“You don’t have to call me by it if you don’t want to,” said Wangero.

“Why shouldn’t I?” I asked. “If that’s what

you want us to call you, we’ll call you.”

“I know it might sound awkward at first,” said Wangero.

“I’ll get used to it,” I said. “Ream it out again.”

Well, soon we got the name out of the way. Asalamalakim had a

name twice as long and three times as hard. After I tripped over

it two

or three times he told me to just call hi

m Hakim-a-barber. I wanted to ask him was he

a barber, but I didn’t really think he wa

s, so I

didn’t ask.

“You must belong to those beef-cattle peoples down the road,” I sa

id. They said “Asalamalakim” when they met you, too, but they

didn’t shake hands. Always too busy: feeding the cattle, fixing

the fences, putting up salt-lick shelters, throwing down hay. W

hen the

white folks poisoned some of the herd the men stayed up all night w

ith rifles in their hands. I walked a mile and a half just t

o see the

sight.

Hakim-a-barber said, “I accept some of thei

r doctrines, but farming and

raising cattle is not my style.” (They didn’t tell me,

and I didn’t

ask, whether Wangero (Dee) had really gone and married him.)

We sat down to eat and right away he said

he didn’t eat collards and pork was unclean. Wangero, though, went on through the chi

tlins

and corn bread, the greens and ever

ything else. She talked a blue streak over the

sweet potatoes. Everything delighted her. Eve

n the

fact that we still used the benches her daddy made for the table when we couldn’t afford to buy chairs.

“Oh, Mama!| she cried. Then turn

ed to Hakim-a-barber. “I never knew how lovely th

ese benches are. You can feel the rump prints,

she said, running her hands underneath her and along the bench. Then she gave a sigh and her hand closed over Grandma Dee’s but

ter

dish. “That’s it!” she said. “I knew there was something I wanted

to ask you if I could have.” Sh

e jumped up from the table and

went

over in the corner where the

churn stood, the milk in it clabber by now.

She looked at the chur

n and looked at it.

“This churn top is what I need,” she said. “Didn’t Uncle

Buddy whittle it out of a tree you all used to have?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Uh huh,” she said happily. “And I want the dasher, too.”

“Uncle Buddy whittle that, too?” asked the barber.

Dee (Wangero) looked up at me.

“Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash,” said Maggie so low you

almost couldn’t hear her. “His name was Henry, but they ca

lled

him Stash.”

“Maggie’s brain is like an elephant’s,” Wa

ngero said, laughing. “I can use the chum

top as a centerpiece for the alcove table,”

she said,

sliding a plate over the chum, “and I’ll think of something artistic to do with the dasher.”

When she finished wrapping the dasher the handle stuck out. I took it for a moment in my hands. You didn’t even have to look cl

ose to

see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood. In fact, there were a lot of

small

sinks; you could see where thumbs and fingers had sunk into th

e wood. It was beautiful light ye

llow wood, from a tree that grew

in the

yard where Big Dee and Stash had lived.

After dinner Dee (Wangero) went to the trunk at the foot of my bed and started rifling through it. Maggie hung back in the kitc

hen

over the dishpan. Out came Wangero with

two quilts. They had been pieced by Grandma

Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them

on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was in the Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mounta

in.

In both of them were scraps of dresses Gr

andma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago.

Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarfelrs Paisl

ey

shirts. And one teeny faded blue

piece, about the size of a penny ma

tchbox, that was from Great Gr

andpa Ezra’s uniform that he

wore

in the Civil War.

“Mama,” Wangero said sweet as a bi

rd. “Can I have these old quilts?”

I heard something fall in the kitchen, and

a minute later the kitchen door slammed.

“Why don’t you take one or two of the others?” I asked. “These old things was just done by me and Big Dee from some tops your

grandma pieced before she died.”

“No,” said Wangero. “I don’t want those. Th

ey are stitched around the borders by machine.”

“That’ll make them last better,” I said.

“That’s not the point,” said Wangero. “These are all pieces of dr

esses Grandma used to wear. She did all this stitching by hand

.

Imagine!” She held the quilts secu

rely in her arms, stroking them.

“Some of the pieces, like those lavender ones, come from old clot

hes her mother handed down to her,” I said, moving up to touch

the

quilts. Dee (Wangero) moved back just enough so that I

couldn’t reach the quilts. They already belonged to her.

“Imagine!” she breathed again, clutching them closely to her bosom.

“The truth is,” I said, “I promised to give them quilts to Magg

ie, for when she marries John Thomas.” She gasped like a bee had

stung

her.

“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She’d proba

bly be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”

“I reckon she would,” I said. “God knows I been saving ‘era fo

r long enough with nobody using ’em. I hope she will!” I didn’t w

ant to

bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old-fashioned, o

ut

of style.

“But they’re priceless!” she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. “Maggie would put them on the bed and in five yea

rs

they’d be in rags. Less than that!”

“She can always make some more,”

I said. “Maggie knows how to quilt.”

Dee (Wangero) looked at me with hatred. “You just wi

ll not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!”

“Well,” I said, stumped. “What would you do with them?”

“Hang them,” she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.

Maggie by now was standing in the door. I could almost hear

the sound her feet made as they scraped over each other.

“She can have them, Mama,” she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. “I can

‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts.”

I looked at her hard. She had filled her bo

ttom lip with checkerberry snuff and it ga

ve her face a kind of dopey, hangdog look.

It was

Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself. She stood there with her scarred hands hidden in the folds of her

skirt.

She looked at her sister with something lik

e fear but she wasn’t mad at her. This was Maggie’s portion. This was the way she kn

ew

God to work.

When I looked at her like that something hit me in the top of

my head and ran down to the soles of my feet. Just like when I’m

in

church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout. I did something I never had done before: hugged Maggie to me

,

then dragged her on into the room

, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hand

s and dumped them into Maggie’s lap. Maggie ju

st

sat there on my bed with her mouth open.

“Take one or two of the others,” I said to Dee.

But she turned without

a word and went out to Hakim-a-barber.

“You just don’t understand,” she said, as Maggie and I came out to the car.

“What don’t I understand?” I wanted to know.

“Your heritage,” she said. And then she turned to Maggie, kissed

her, and said, “You ought to try to make something of yourself

, too,

Maggie. It’s really a new day for us. But from th

e way you and Mama still live you’d never know it.”

She put on some sunglasses that hid everyt

hing above the tip of her nose and her chin.

Maggie smiled; maybe at the sunglasses. But

a real smile, not scared. After we watche

d the car dust settle I asked Maggie to br

ing me

a dip of snuff. And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.

Source Citation

(MLA 7

th

Edition)

Walker, Alice (American novelist). “Everyday Use.”

In Love & Trouble

. Alice Walker. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Company,

1973. 47+.

LitFinder

. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

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