“Everyday Use:” A Reflection on the Life of Alice Walker-By Sheena Mitchell


Alice Walker is an extremely successful African-American author. She was born on February 19, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia. Many people doubted her success because at the age of eight she was blinded in her right eye by the bullet of a BB-gun. But Walker was determined and did not let that minor setback hinder her progress. Her parents were Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker. Both of them were poor sharecroppers. She is the youngest of eight children. Blindness was not the only obstacle she had to overcome in order to gain fame, and to this day she has a strong belief that people can overcome anything if they are determined and steadfast. Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use,” is a direct reflection of her life in the South. The story is set in the 60’s or early 70’s, when black empowerment was a big issue and many Blacks had began the reformation of their race. Walker depicts the southern life in a way that only someone who witnessed the happenings of that period of time could depict. She does not sugar coat any of the experiences that are retold in “Everyday Use.” Alice Walker used many of her own personal experiences to create the characters, events, and develop the plot for the story “Everyday Use.”


The characters in “Everyday Use” are quite possibly based on the members of Walker’s family. Because she is the youngest of eight children, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s in the South probably made her have to do a lot of work. During this period of time, women were still expected to work in the houses. They cooked and cleaned because the idea of women being able to go out and do hard labor as men did had not been formally introduced. The family that Walker created in “Everyday Use” may not have been as standard as other Southern Black families were during that time. An example of the difference between Walker’s created family and the typical Black family of the time is on page 505 when the strong, demanding character Mother says, “One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledge hammer and had the meat hung up to chill before nightfall.” The traditional Black woman was not expected to do something like that because it was then believed that work that involved the killing of an animal was work for a man.


The events in “Everyday Use” were also typical events of that time. Dee (Wangero) came home after she had decided to change her name and become a new person along with her Muslim friend Asalamalakim. Her family asked her what had happened to the name she used to have. She told them, “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.” (p. 509) It was typical that in that time period, older members of the family who had previously gone off and explored other options would come home and be different people than who they were when they left. Because Alice Walker was the youngest child of eight children, it is quite possible that she had experienced a sibling who left and came back a different person one or many times. Also, when Dee (Wangero) returned she decided that she wanted some of the family’s heirlooms. Alice Walker could have experienced this phenomenon because her family was impoverished, and therefore any heirlooms that they had would probably have been extremely sacred to them.


Finally, Alice Walker used many of her own experiences in her life develop the plot in the short story “Everyday Use.” The plot is that an older sibling whom has “made it” named Dee (Wangero) comes home from college to her anticipating family. She comes back with pride in her new name and heritage. She expects for her family to be happy for her, but they feel otherwise. They are not as joyful about the changes Dee made than she is that she made them. Dee then resorts to acting as if she is better than the rest of her family. She asks her mother if she can have some