The Short Story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
In literature, conflict is an artistic technique that entails a struggle between two antagonistic characters. Dramatic conflict is a driving force that produces the story’s content and determines flow direction. Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” demonstrates how dramatic conflict aids in developing the plot of the story. In a narrative revolving around a mother and her two daughters, the conflict between the family members is exemplified by their unwillingness to compromise selfish interests for family unity. In “Everyday Use,” favoritism, cultural identity, and jealousy have led to resentment and disagreements between the two sisters and the mother.
The mother’s parenting proves that favoritism is frequently at the base of family conflict in today’s society. Walker explains that even though ‘Mama’ may love both of her daughters, they are treated differently due to their contrasting personalities throughout their lives (2). Mama favors one of her children, Dee, over Maggie, causing dispute within the family. It gives Dee a sense of independence and the confidence to approach every life situation broadly. Due to this disparity, Dee tries to take even what is not hers. On the one hand, dramatic conflict results in an individual’s personality development, as exemplified by Dee in this story.
Often, children tend to develop wrong perceptions of themselves depending on the treatment they receive from society. Due to her mother’s preferential treatment, Maggie has low self-esteem, limiting her exposure. It lowered her confidence, making her settle for mediocre positions in life. She feels left out and believes that only her sister can accomplish greatness because her own life has appeared impossible. Conflict may destroy a society’s fabric by developing people with contrasting views of life, consequently shaping their experiences.
Society has set standards that define beauty, creating conflict between self and social expectations. Maggie’s jealousy of Dee’s beauty results from her beliefs that she does not attain the whole society’s measure of beauty. She has a thin body figure, with her arms and legs looking worse from being scarred by fire. This leads to her lack of confidence, making her stagger as she walks, often fleeing or hiding in the background to avoid social interactions. Despite her good-hearted nature, Maggie lacks an opportunity to influence her surroundings, alienating her from the people that matter in life. This aspect demonstrates that dramatic conflict deprives society of valuable input obtained from individuals had they not been made to feel less important.
Developing a close connection to social artifacts is crucial for cultural identity and consequent expression. Dramatic conflict resulting from a different perspective of cultural values leads to family separations. According to Maggie, the quilts represent the dignity of black women, while Dee sees them as beautiful, priceless things and nothing beyond that (Walker 7). Dee is an embodiment of success, but she is also a symbol of forgetfulness and disregard for her ancestors’ heritage. In contrast, Maggie demystifies respect and passion for the past. These differences create divisions between the two sisters, negatively influencing their roles in society.
As people derive different meanings of their cultural values, dramatic conflict may arise, orienting some to seek better experiences outside their heritages. The mother explains how her daughters differ regarding educational levels. Dee went off to college, gaining a high-quality education despite their needy and low position in society as black women in the south. In the short story, Dee has made a cultural shift from her African-American culture to adopt a more African culture. The story climaxes when Dee plans to take two special garments back home. This action raises arguments since the precious garments are significant to Maggie as they display their culture. The conflict escalates when Maggie cites Dee’s affiliation to a Muslim culture, which significantly differs from Maggie’s beliefs and character of getting all she needs. This conflict goes beyond the cloth in question, showing how different opinions may aggravate hatred among family members.
Generational changes are attributed to young people’s desire to embrace new cultures, despising the past, leading to conflict in society. Dee views her natural heritage as dead, preferring to bury it. She desires the family ornaments and garments, although she regards them as relics of a bygone era, fit for exhibition but not for practical use. Consequently, Dee develops a new identity for herself, thinking of attempting to imitate her African heritage. The conflict, in this case, denotes the disagreement between a person’s desire for influence and her willingness to be authentic.
Nevertheless, Maggie’s concept of her heritage is personal. Her grandma taught her to quilt, developing a strong bond with the craft. Dee’s unwillingness to respect her traditions create a rift between her and Maggie, who firmly believes that people should respect and honor their root. The passion for the family’s inheritance is accompanied with a lack of understanding of why the traditions are significant to the family. This conflict goes beyond traditional practices traversing all areas of their social interactions.
There is a close link between an individual’s beliefs and their conduct. Dee wants to highlight her African roots and show off her ethnicity. On the other hand, Maggie sees her heritage to express who she is and her family’s history. Dee has created a new ancestry for herself and shunned her genuine lineage, enraged by what she perceives to be a legacy of persecution in her family. Refusing to recognize her given name’s family tradition, Dee adopts a new name, ‘Wangero,’ which she claims more appropriately portrays her African ancestry (Walker 6). She believes her maiden name is a slave name, and she believes she is more informed and more intelligent than her mother, even though she respects her. This demonstrates the desire for cultural identity from the name to everyday activities.
Jealousy has been a significant factor in conflicts between people at the same level. It started when Maggie saw herself as less important because of her appearance. The story reveals that she has burn scars on her arms and legs, while Dee is seemingly perfect, causing her to be jealous that her sister has been gifted with everything. At the same time, Dee is very jealous of Maggie because she feels that the mother likes Maggie more. This aspect destroys the family bond between the two sisters. Maggie is kind-hearted and wants Dee’s acceptance, but she seems uninterested. This leads to a fragile relationship between the sisters, further alienating them from each other and their mother.
The conditions in Dee’s life set her apart as a proud individual who believed that she was above everyone else. Maggie feels that “no is a word that the world never learned to say” to her sister (Walker 1). From her point of view, Dee controls the world with her hands, allowing her to do whatever she wants. While searching for personal purpose and a better sense of identity as an individual, Dee shows jealousy among her family members. Her judgmental attitude has negatively affected Mama and Maggie, further alienating them from each other.
Dee portrays herself as arrogant and insensitive throughout the story, while Maggie remains humble, respecting her family background. Although Dee has many admirable qualities, they are less appreciated due to her pride. The conflict exemplified by this situation shows how jealousy distorts moral values, diverting people’s attention from the common good to self. Moreover, Mama considers her admirable qualities extreme and unpleasant. These jealousy acts contributed to misunderstandings and hatred for each other.
Conclusively, culture and heritage are critical elements inseparable from everyday use. Maggie and her mother are seen appreciating their culture and heritage personally, intimately, and practically. They appreciated the quilts because they were made by the family and therefore were precious. ‘Mama’ could see the good and bad attributes in both children and their points of view. However, she stands firm when Dee tries to take Maggie’s quilts away. From the beginning, the mother prefers one daughter over the other, and the daughters continually fight to control their family values. Different worldviews deepen the rift between them, with none willing to compromise. In the end, Dee cuts off her connection with her natural heritage for a fancy lifestyle to create a “new day” for Black Americans. The mother’s preferential treatment of her daughters and social expectations cause envy, jealousy, and hatred that results in conflict, destroying the family bond.
Walker, Alice. Everyday use. Rutgers University Press, 1994.