Short Story Review: Everyday Use by Alice Walker

A story about the lengths one can go to disguise shame and thus miss their blessings

Devette Lindsay

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Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

“Everyday Use” was written by author Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple for which she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was first published in 1973 in Harper’s Magazine and also appears in Walker’s book of short stories, In Love and Trouble.

About the Story

“Everyday Use” is a story about truly appreciating one’s history, family, and community. The story begins with Mama talking about her two daughters: Dee, her eldest child who glows with confidence, style, and good looks. She’s on her way back home to visit her mother and younger sister after being away for quite some time. Mama’s youngest daughter, Maggie still lives at home and probably won’t leave until marriage. According to Mama, she’s a simple, ‘slow-thinking” young woman who has always been invisible.

Maggie shows signs of stress while dressing and waiting for her sister. Mama, whose narration implies she favors Dee, lovingly calms her as they wait on the porch of their weathered, rural home, located deep in the sticks. In the quiet of her heart, Mama dreams that one day, Dee will accept her.

A young man pulls up to Mama’s house with Dee in the passenger’s seat. Both are dressed in African garb and Dee, as usual, is shining as bright as the sun. Excitedly, Dee hops out and greets her mother in a foreign tongue and introduces the young man by an African-sounding name— Hakim-al-barber.

“Wa-su-zo-Tean-o!” [Dee] says, coming on in that gliding way the dress makes her move. The short stocky fellow with the hair to his navel is all grinning and he follows up with “Asalamalakim, my mother and sister!” He moves to hug Maggie but she falls back, right up against the back of my chair. I feel her trembling there and when I look up I see the perspiration falling off her chin. (Source)

At this point, Mama's narration takes on a tone of sarcasm salted with a bit of awe. She privately refers to the boyfriend as “a barber” and laughs to herself. Other times, jokingly mispronounces “Asalamalakim.”

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Devette Lindsay

I'm a writer, an avid reader, and a fan of magic found within the mundane. I publish articles on speculative fiction, literature and creativity.