As Mercilessly As a Man


Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” paints a very ingenious picture of the independence of human nature which resides in us all. The impact of her image is amplified by its setting; a black, single mother and her two daughters. Characters of three very independent personalities in spite of the apparent similarities in terms of culture and background. It is not an extraordinary tale. In fact it is somewhat common. The grace and wonder in “Everyday Use” is not the ordinary story of conflicting values and differing senses of identity. This is the very sort of story one sees over and over again. The magic in “Everyday Use” is Alice Walker’s artful telling of the tale. Walker injects a solid dose of realism which is effective even in a casual perusal, but shines quite brightly upon further study.

Her canvas is painted with brilliant colors from a broad brush. It can actually be difficult for one to become fully engaged in a creation such as this; seeing the big picture, focusing the lens, adjusting the tone. These can be such a bother, and the diamonds won’t retract their claws. Mama describes herself along with a daydream image, “I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man.” along with a daydream self-image, “I am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake…  Johnny Carson has much to do to keep up with my quick and witty tongue.” (Walker 424/5) Indeed, Mama, the reader has much to do in seeing your story through the blazing image of your you. Her words portray her rural, self-supporting life graphically and with a comedic irony which makes them a rare pleasure to read.

Mama’s description also primes the reader’s imagination of Dee, who she describes as a “cute shaped” young lady who wears “a dress so loud it hurts my eyes… I feel my whole face warming form the heat waves it throws out.” (425/20) A daughter who possesses, “scalding humor that erupted like bubbles in lye.” (425/15) Thanks to a boy-friend of Dee’s, Mama tells us, “she didn’t have much time to pay to us, but turned all her faultfinding power on him.” (425/16) Need the reader wonder about the innate character of Dee?

What of Dee’s younger sister Maggie, the damaged and much more reserved daughter who lives at home with Mama? “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” (424/9)

Rich and robust! The contrast between the two sisters is painted with vivid luminosity, as is Mama’s perception of it. The magnificent independence of Mama, the good looks, intelligent, radiant, yet greedy and arrogant nature of Dee, the injured, unlucky, possibly even abused young Maggie, all sing from the pages in dulcet tones.

There is also stunning symbolism woven into the tale. The quilt, a symbol of family heritage which also reflects the sewn together aspects of this particular family, the differing desires in terms of what is to become of it, and the disparate values in which it is held. Reviewer Judith Hatchett noted this and commented, “the two views of quilts represents mutually exclusive lifestyles” (Hatchett 550) The quilt, the symbolic center of the tale, was woven from patches of clothing worn by ancestors of both girls, treasured by Maggie for sentimental and useful reasons, seen as a cultural treasure to own by Dee.

The image presented here is palpable. “Everyday Use” is a good story made great by the artistic wordbrush of Alice Walker, “as mercilessly as a man.”


Works Cited

Hatchett, Judith et al. American Icons: An Encyclopedia of the People, Places, and Things that Have    Shaped Our Culture. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. Print

Walker, Alice et al. Compact Literature, Reading, Reacting, Writing. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print

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