Advanced Composition 213
Professor Ruby Lewis
October 29, 2020
In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” Dee (Wangero) Johnson neglects her real heritage and adapts a new one, while belittling her family who lack education. Dee remains unevolved throughout time no matter her changes in beliefs. Although Dee achieves her goals by overcoming her circumstances such as poverty and racial discrimination, she is not admirable for her achievements or courage. She is selfish and self-centered, and remains unchanged from her childhood to now after several years. According to her mother’s depiction, she is stylish and good-looking. Dee has been requesting “nice things”, for instance classy matching outfits already ever since her teenage and has been mindful of the influence rendered by looks: “At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was” (Walker 451). When she was younger her family’s house burnt to ashes scarring her sister and leaving her family to start over again. Her mother “Mama” believes Dee watched the house burn in awe and that she should have done a dance around the ashes. Dee’s disregards empathy for her sister’s tragic experience, and lack of gratitude for the money raised for her education, gives insight to how self- centered she is (Alice, 451). Additionally, Dee continuously gravitating towards nicer more luxury items. Her desire for quilts indicates her static behavior. Dee usually parades around with flashy attire, making her a target to envy by her friends and family.
Dee’s relationship with her family first became estranged after she left for school in Augusta: “After second grade the school was closed down. Don’t ask me why: in 1927 colored asked fewer questions than they do now.” Dee is the only one in her family that has the privilege of higher education. Mama and her sister “Maggie” did all that they could to raise money at the church to send her to college. Doing so, Mama noticed the first time Dee showed any sort of affection towards Maggie, which gives you context into Dee’s selfishness: “She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her.” Maggie, who is very timid, often gets anxious and nervous around her sister. Dee is exceptionally beautiful compared to Maggie, which does not aid in closing the animosity between sisters. While at school Dee was exposed to a life outside of rural and farm like living. She surrounds herself with individuals who are “woke” or actively seeking knowledge about their ancestry (Alice, 453). Indulging herself in the Black Consciousness Movement, she adopts a new-found persona or “heritage.” She does not have the best understanding of African culture. While on this journey she simultaneously neglects her own roots. Dee is all self-confidence; she recognizes her robust sides, for example overall scholarship and brightness. As a result, she is determined to attain success; and recognizing it is in her power, she would not turn back before anyone: “She would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature. […] She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts” (Walker 450).
During the Black Consciousness Movement, Dee acquired a new Afrocentric identity. Dee’s persona becomes loud, garish, and judgmental. She operates under the guise of “Black Pride” and a “pre-slavery identity” which is popular amongst many black college students of the 1960’s. Dee’s colorful attire and preference to be called “Wangero” seems forced and without nuance. Her appreciation of “everyday” objects, like the butter churn and quilts lies not in their practical usage, -but in the history of the objects. She seeks to reclaim these artifacts rather than use them in everyday life, which does not sit well with Mama. Dee challenges people including activists, separatists, or anyone else who disregards or rejects her version of Black legacy. The individuals who indulge themselves in the Black Consciousness Movement have a romanticized view of Africa. They do not embrace the cruel reality of what it is to be Black in America. Much less embrace the strength it takes African Americans to persevere in such circumstances. Dee has a theoretical domain of a belief system. This system stands out completely from the natural, and physical, work concentrated way of life Mama and Maggie are used to.
Dee’s distorted perception of her heritage stems from her not wanting to be connected to slavery. It is evident that Dee is more into displaying her new-found beliefs as a way to make herself feel more empowered in her life. Rather than embracing her history in a way that represents and expresses her ancestor’s trials and tribulations. Dee chooses to showcase parts of her life that look good. She picks and chooses that parts of her heritage that she wants to acknowledge and disregards the ones that don’t serve her image. She skips over the pain of the past and only shows a highlighted reel. Quite the opposite, Mama and Maggie have embraced all parts of the life they have built. Dee is fascinated by their rural authenticity, snapping photos while she visits them like they are on display at a museum. In doing so, Dee viably disrespects and cuts herself off from her family. Rather than respecting and grasping her authentic roots, Dee looks down on her family’s poverty. She believes herself to be above them.
Dee (Wangero) lives in her own world as she tries to find her new identity within African cultures. She has rejected her real and known heritage in favor of a constructed one. Dee does not think her sister and mother understand the value in their family’s artifacts. She has the vein idea that her ancestors’ belongings should be preserved. Being detached from the objects themselves she believes they should be preserved and admired later. Mama and Maggie have a personal bond to their family’s belongings. They have cherished the relationships with those who had them before. For Mama and Maggie using the possessions like the hand-stitched quilts, it is a way to keep the memory alive of those who made them. Due to Dee’s superficial nature she rather possesses items of her grandmother to show off to her peers. Which is ironic because at the same time she denounces her name which was also her grandmothers’. Dee is so determined to detach herself from her actual heritage; she ultimately loses herself in a fictional identity.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 3rd ed. Eds. Missy James and Alan P. Merickel. Pearson, 2007 449–455
Radhi, Shaimaa Hadi. “Aesthetic Image of the Animal Epithet in Alice Walker’s Short Story” Everyday Use” Advances in Language and Literary Studies 8.5 (2017): 120-127.
Bell, Judith. “Like Mother, Like Daughter: Parental Expectations in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”.” 4 Kevin Ung, Director of McNair Scholar’s Program Introduction 5 Sara Baker, TRIO Logistics Manager & Coach Note from the Editor: 6.