‘Everyday Use’ by Alice Walker, Character Comparison of Maggie and Dee.
Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’ is a story centered on three characters: Mrs. Johnson fondly referred to as Mama and her daughters Dee and Maggie. The story is rich in an African-American way of living represented in Dee and Maggie. Walker presents this through the characters of Dee and Maggie which are sharply contrasting.
This is shown in how she values the quilts that once belonged to ‘grandma’ Dee. Maggie tells us that she remembers her ‘grandma’ without the quilts (Walker, 7). On the other hand, Dee is an educated and sophisticated young woman. She schools in the city, and although she grew up in a traditional setting, she has never associated or wanted to be associated with it. At one time she writes to her mother that she will visit her at home, and that she could never tag her friends along (Walker 2000, 3). This is because she does not want her friends to know her real heritage, a heritage she is not proud of.
Dee even changes her name. She acquires her new name Dee because she claims her African name, Wangero, suggests her African culture. Her new name, she claims, gives her a freedom that her African culture does not (Walker, 4).
According to Kirszner and Mandell, Maggie is an introvert. She is shy, uneducated and far from being ambitious (121). This can be supported Walker’s narration in reference to Maggie where she says, “She has always been like this, chin in on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle” (Walker, 384). Maggie is very traditional and has always stayed back at home with Mrs. Johnson.
Contrarily, Dee is confident and extroverted. Her physique differs from that of her lean, unsophisticated sister. She has a full figure and beautiful hair (Walker 161). Walker states that Dee would always look at anyone straight in the eye, she would not hesitate. She would even look at a white man in the eye confidently (Walker 485). This also contrasts her mother’s character; Mrs. Johnson would shy away from looking at a white man in the eye.
Dee is defiant. She was unmoved when their little house was burnt down in a fire. She felt no regret; after all she never liked their house. She watched the house burn down with concentration (Walker 485). In an interview with Stitches in Time’s Evelyn C. White, Walker concurs with the idea that Dee might in fact be the one who set the little house ablaze (Kirszner and Mandell, 123). Maggie, however, is very much concerned with the loss of the house. It is what contributed to her self-pity and shyness having been burnt in the process.
Another contrast between Dee and Maggie is shown in Dee’s materialistic character. Mrs. Johnson states that Dee always wanted good things in life and that from the age of sixteen she already understood what style is, she even developed her own style (Walker, 384). Mrs. Johnson knew that Dee never liked their house roofed with tin. She also wanted to take the ancient quilts and the churn top. This reiterates Dee’s love for material and fine things in life.
Maggie is cultural and material things do not appeal to her. She cherishes their culture and heritage. Most of her utterances are a recount of history which she probably learns from her mother. Maggie tells us that Aunt Dee’s husband was Henry although people called him Stash, and that he whittled the dash (Walker 6). In this story, there is no particular reference to Maggie’s love for material things, rather, her love for tradition and culture manifests.
The two young women’s way of dress differs. As earlier mentioned, Dee discovered her own sense of style by age sixteen. Dee has an Afro-American style, whereas Maggie dresses in conservative African wear. Walker tells us that Maggie conceals her physique in a red top and pink skirt (384). She feels intimidated around Dee because of the burns and scars she got when their house burnt down. These scars run deep down her soul. She perceives herself as not beautiful unlike her sister.
As much as these two characters differ in many ways, some similarities are evident. Both Maggie and Dee are strong, bold and daring women. Both of them are intelligent in different ways.
On the one hand, Dee dared to step out of her traditional upbringing to explore a different world, a world of education, challenges, class and sophistication. This is not easy for any ordinary girl who in her formative years was only exposed to tradition, culture and heritage. She even has a boyfriend, Hakim, who hails from different race and culture.
On the other hand, Maggie boldly lives through her limitations. She is shy and of low self-esteem yet she has a boyfriend, Thomas. Mrs. Johnson felt that the young man did not have much to offer, but again she felt that it was an achievement for a character like Maggie. Maggie’s strengths also manifest in her singing in church, her intelligence, good memory and mastery of their tradition and heritage (Tyson, 19-20).
Works CitedTop of Form
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Kirszner, Laurie G, and Stephen R. Mandell. The Brief Wadsworth Handbook. Boston, MA: Thomson Higher Education, 2007. Print.
Tyson, Lois. Using Critical Theory: How to Read and Write About Literature. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Walker, Alice, and Barbara Christian. Everyday Use. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Print.
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