Everyday Use Summary

Alice Walker

Everyday Use

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Everyday Use Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Everyday Use by Alice Walker.

One of American author Alice Walker’s earliest works, “Everyday Use” (1973) follows African American women across the generations who take very different approaches to embrace their heritage and cultural identity. The story was originally published in Walker’s anthology, Love and Trouble. An award-winning poet, novelist, short story writer, and activist, Walker is best known for her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, for which she won both the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the 1983 National Book Award.

The narrator, Mama, lives in the Deep South with her daughter, Maggie, although she also has another daughter, Dee. Mama is waiting for Dee to return home. This is a tense time because Mama and Dee don’t get on as well as they used to. Dee is successful, educated, and confident, and Mama thinks she has forgotten her roots. On the other hand, Dee thinks Mama is too traditional and backward.

Maggie dreads Dee’s return. Jealous of how rich and ambitious Dee is, Maggie always feels worthless standing beside her. She resents that the world never seems to deny Dee anything, while it denies Maggie everything; she hates her sister for abandoning her. Much of the story centers on Mama’s thoughts about her two daughters and how she wishes they could be a family again.

As Dee drives towards the house, Mama and Maggie run around making the final preparations. Mama wonders why they bother tidying up, because Dee never brings anyone with her, anyway. Maggie comments that Dee never had any friends because she scared everyone with her dreams and ambitions. This comforts Mama because she has always believed that Dee visited alone out of shame. This time, however, Dee has a guest with her. He looks nothing like the glamorous, elegant Dee who steps out of the car. He is unkempt, short, and round—the opposite of the men Dee is normally attracted to. Mama and Maggie wait anxiously for the introductions. Dee, on the other hand, seems perfectly composed and relaxed.

Before Mama can hug her returning daughter, Dee makes an announcement. She has changed her name to Wangero. When Mama asks why, Dee explains that she doesn’t want to be named after her oppressors anymore. Mama says she was named after the women in the family. At this point, both Mama and Maggie realize Dee feels so oppressed by her roots that she’s shunned them entirely.

Mama tries to change the subject by putting out food for everyone. Maggie is silent, trying to blend into the shadows. Wangero and her friend, Hakim, take over the meal, talking very loudly. Wangero points out everything from the benches her dad made when they had no money for chairs to her Grandma’s butter dish, and Hakim drinks it all in like he’s in a museum. All the while, Mama and Maggie don’t know what to say.

Wangero disappears, coming back to the table with two quilts. Mama and her sister, Big Dee, made the quilts themselves. Wangero wants to take them home but Mama won’t let her. She says that Maggie is getting them as a wedding present when she marries the local boy John Thomas. Maggie panics and retreats because she doesn’t want attention focused on her. Wangero, unsurprisingly, is angry. She wants the quilts to show them off, displaying them as art. She takes numerous trinkets from the house and stashes them in her car. She doesn’t care that they are family heirlooms, only that she can display them like exhibits in a gallery. Mama reminds Wangero that Maggie has rights to the quilts, but Wangero criticizes Maggie, saying that she doesn’t have the intelligence to appreciate the quilts.

Finally, Maggie speaks up. She tells Wangero to take the quilts because she doesn’t need them to remember her family. Mama is furious because she knows Maggie really wants the quilts. She is sick of Wangero visiting when it suits her and criticizing them. In a rage, Mama grabs the quilts, shoving them at Maggie. Maggie, dumbstruck, takes them. Mama tells Wangero she can take other blankets or nothing.

Wangero goes back to the car, ready to leave. She tells Maggie to leave Mama and go make something of herself elsewhere. She explains that it’s a big world out there and that Maggie should use her heritage to her advantage. Maggie doesn’t say anything, and Wangero assumes that Maggie is too stupid to ever leave. However, Maggie and Mama sit on the porch that night the way they always do, enjoying snuff, and feeling content with their lives.
Wangero wants to preserve her heritage, pretending that it’s a thing of the past. Mama and Maggie believe in keeping their heritage alive and living as their family did. They have their own views on their heritage and how to express their culture, but unlike Wangero, they don’t feel the need to impose these views on others. Keeping the blankets symbolizes retaining their beliefs.