“Everyday Use” and Feminism

Introduction

The community places too much work on the shoulders of African women. African-American women face more pressure with the need to fit in their communities and raise healthy families amidst the challenges such as poverty, crime, and being looked down upon. Alice Walker’s narrative “Everyday Use” is one of the several short stories in the book Love and Trouble, which was first published in the year 1973. The story seeks to depict feminist culture in an African American family. The main themes include education, religion, culture, family, and the strength of a woman. The following are depicted through their ability to preserve their culture, the hard work they do, and their ability to be gentle. The story follows the contrast between Mrs. Johnson and her two daughters. Her shy younger daughter Maggie, who equally still holds fast to old black culture in the rural South, and Dee or “Wangero,” her successful and educated daughter, who takes an alternate course to reclaim her cultural identity (Walker 1). The narrative used is a depiction of the post-slavery lives of black Americans.

The community struggles to earn money working menial jobs. Few of the community members were educated, while society continually looked down upon them. Heavy labor was preserved for men, as depicted by Mrs. Johnson’s need to work like a man to put food on the table (Walker 1). This also shows that most labors was reserved for people of the male gender. The narrative focuses on Dee’s arrival in her mother’s home. She wants to preserve all family heirlooms; she, however, fails to acknowledge that they are not decorative and should be regarded as tools for everyday use. The pre-stated fact is, therefore, seen whereby Maggie views the quilts in a nature that greatly differs from the view held by Dee (Walker 3). Mama is a strong-willed woman who leads the family fairly and allocates to each daughter what is dutifully hers. She disregards the wants of her daughters and focuses on their needs.

Literary Analysis of Everyday Use

Plot

The plot of the book Everyday use is set in the 1960s or the 70s. This is a time in history when the Juneteenth incidences are already past the black community. At this point, education is accessible for African-American citizens of both genders. However, at this time, only a tiny percentage of black women are well educated. The African American communities still hold on to their heritage from the times of slavery and the names they attained at that time (Walker 3). Therefore, the book is set in the south, where the African Americans who were formerly slaves still live. The predominantly black community the main characters live in is free of White people.

The story is set in the rural residence of an African American family. The family does not have any male members, and the ones who exist are either part of the extended family or obscured from the view of the narrative. The story is based on a time when the television is the only source of information and is revered (Walker 1). The characters, therefore, fantasize about television reunions with their family. The book makes use of a clash of numerous cultures. These include the struggle of the former slave families to earn a living and live decent lives. The family heritage falls in line with poverty and times when families were tight-knit and quilted together, and, finally, the influence of religion and modernity.

Characters

The narrative focuses on the three main characters and one supporting character who appears in the story consistently. The narrator of the story is Mrs. Johnson, and she is constantly referred to as ‘mama’ in the narrative. She is the mother of two daughters, who are the other main characters of the book. She loves her family and values their cultural heritage. She is, however, not formally educated. The second character is the narrator’s eldest daughter Dee (Walker 2). Dee is educated and has converted to Islam recently. She is selfish and obsessed with preserving the family heritage as heirlooms as opposed to everyday functional tools. Maggie, Mrs. Johnson’s younger daughter, was marred by fire as a child and lives at home with their mother. She is selfless and lacks confidence. The supporting character is Hakim, a Muslim man Dee brings home. He is loving, yet he fails to understand the family traditions or to embrace humility.

Feminism in the Text

Feminism, as per the dictionary, is a point of view that incorporates women as equal members of society. The debates for feminism focus on the idea that all genders are valid, and all people deserve to be treated equally regardless of their gender. Within the novel, feminism is a key thematic element. This theme works alongside the theme of family and the aspect of leadership and education. The all-female family is self-sufficient and wants for nothing. They are rich in family heritage, leadership values, and the ability to fight for themselves.

Despite Mrs. Johnson’s lack of education, she can stand her ground and raise an able and self-sufficient family. Mrs. Johnson takes up the role of both mother and father of her two daughters (Walker 3). This involves nurturing their bodies by earning enough money to feed them as she also stimulates the mind, as “she raises her girls to be girls, yet she works as a man would. With her rough man hands and her ability to slaughter and clean a hog by herself” (Walker 1). She begins the book by describing her ideal family, where women are recognized for their achievements and where she regards herself as highly as any man would himself.

Maggie, the youngest daughter, lives with her mother. She lacks self-esteem and walks in a shuffle motion. As is seen in the narrative, mama hears her approaching as they await Dee’s arrival through her shuffle-like walk (Rosenfelt 5). Maggie is a chin-on-chest kind of a girl, following her burns in a house fire as a child. Nonetheless, she can work hard and keep the house in the best way possible. Her mother’s high regard for her shows that her mother still has faith in her despite her subjugated view of herself.

The third character Dee, Mrs. Johnson’s eldest, depicts a strong, educated woman and a powerful feminist image. The image of feminism upheld by Dee is portrayed in various instances of the narrative. Her being educated and deciding that she can change her name shows that she believes her identity is more than the value a white man can place on her (Daniels). She, therefore, rejects her identity based on slavery. Her choice in the narrative to consume pork and collard greens when her male companion Hakeem says it goes against their religion shows that she can make her own decisions independent of her companion’s choices (Walker 2). Her courage in stating what she thinks regardless of how wrong she is about the quilts and the churning apparatus shows a selfish albeit headstrong woman (Sadeq and Al-Badawi 157). The narrative also places a significant amount of value on the talents and gifts of women beyond the family. The disputed heirlooms are the tools of a woman. They help the readers acknowledge all the work women put into making families successful and nurturing their offspring.

Critical Analysis

Black females who were persecuted and overwhelmed socially, truly, and explicitly, attempt to get independence from the predominance. The majority of the people of color are treated as slaves; they need to reclassify their womanhood. The chief pieces of the black women presented as slaves they need to free their adulthood. In her short story “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker wryly investigates the pattern of African-Americans who conveyed the New Black Identity to limits (Walker 5). This paper attempts to break down the components of the artistic examination, argumentation, and women’s activist analysis the creator uses to investigate this pattern.

The narrative is written about a time when men were the leaders and bread earners for their families, it, however, has a bias with regard to gender. The narrative is, therefore, unrealistic as it seeks to portray a society where women are self-sufficient. In that time, it was unlikely to find such families as women were hardly allowed to take on men’s work. The narrative focuses on building a story where the only male character Hakim is insistent on making use of physical forms of affection when he meets Dee’s family (Walker 1). He later declines to consume pork and collard greens: both activities are at loggerheads in that the narrator fails to realize that Islamic culture was rather conservative. It would therefore frown upon his form of physical affection. Additionally, the two behaviors do not go hand in hand. The idea of finding it necessary to hug Maggie is a loving gesture, and the failure to consume the food she prepares is a form of disregard for her.

The critical analysis of the literature is biased toward the character Dee. Maggie is a soft-spoken, deeply scarred young woman. Her self-esteem is low, and her only traits that are regarded in the narrative are those of her being a pushover when her sister bullied her and her shyness. The narrative hardly gives the character any good traits, and this, therefore, fails to give Alice Walker’s work a holistic viewpoint. The characters are all efficient, and they all should have wholly built narratives. This can, however, be negated by a statement that highly regards housework as an art form that Maggie prevails at.

Conclusion

The narrative Everyday Use by Alice Walker is biased in that it only uses female characters in her literary work to highlight the strengths of women in society. The narrative employs the gifts of women and girls from the period of slavery through their quilting and the family stories it tells. The narrator focuses on the importance of women in the community and their strengths and abilities. Dee’s education highlights the power of a headstrong learned woman. Maggie depicts the dedicated homemaker who nourishes her family and puts them first. While Mrs. Johnson is a strong character, a symbol of leadership, the physical strength a woman can attain, and her ability to juggle both home responsibilities and bear physical labor to make ends meet.

References

Daniels, Jessie. “The trouble with white feminism: Whiteness, digital feminism and the intersectional internet.” Digital Feminism and the Intersectional Internet. 2015. Web.

Rosenfelt, Deborah. “In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women.” Radical Teacher. Vol. 113, 2019, pp. 4-123.

Sadeq, Ala Eddin, and Mohammed Al-Badawi. “Epiphanic Awakenings in Raymond Carver’s Cathedral and Alice Walker’s Everyday Use.” Advances in Language and Literary Studies. Vol 7.3, 2016, pp. 157-160.

Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Walker, Alice. In Love & Trouble. 1st ed., Mariner Books, 1973, pp. 1-6.

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