Alice Walker Everyday Use Summary
Alice Walker’s 1973 short story “Everyday Use” is told from the perspective of “Mama,” an African American woman living in the South. As the story opens, Mama is waiting for the arrival of her daughter, Dee. Mama knows that her other daughter, Maggie, will not be happy while Dee is home, jealous of Maggie’s life and self-conscious about her burn scars. Mama remembers back to the house fire a decade previously, when Maggie was burned.
When Dee arrives, she is accompanied by her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Hakim is a Black Muslim, and Dee announces that her new name is Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, adopting an Africanized name to protest white mistreatment in America. Mama struggles to pronounce Hakim’s name, eventually calling him “Asalamakim,” the Muslim greeting for “peace be with you.”
Inside, over dinner, Hakim announces that he will not eat collard greens or pork, and Dee goes around asking for family relics. Dee claims that she wants to preserve these items of her heritage, and remove them from every day use. Among the items that Dee wants are too quilts, made by her ancestors, that date to the Civil War. Mama says that she has promised Maggie that she can have the quilts, but Dee objects, claiming that they will be destroyed. Dee claims that Mama does not understand her heritage, despite the fact that her rejection of her name is indicative of a similar lack of understanding.