American writer and activist Alice Walker is best known for her novel The Color Purple, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She has written numerous other novels, stories, poems, and essays.
Her story "Everyday Use" originally appeared in her 1973 collection, In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and has been widely anthologized since.
The story is narrated in the first-person by a mother who lives with her shy and unattractive daughter, Maggie, who was scarred in a fire as a child.
They are nervously waiting for a visit from Maggie"s sister, Dee, to whom life has always come easy.
Dee and her companion boyfriend arrive with bold, unfamiliar clothing and hairstyles, greeting Maggie and the narrator with Muslim and African phrases. Dee announces that she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, saying that she couldn"t stand to use a name from oppressors. This decision hurts her mother, who named her after loved ones.
During the visit, Dee lays claim to certain family heirlooms, such as the top and dasher of a butter churn, whittled by relatives. But unlike Maggie, who uses the butter churn to make butter, Dee wants to treat them like antiques or artwork.
Dee also tries to claim some handmade quilts, fully assuming she"ll be able to have them because she"s the only one who can "appreciate" them. The mother informs Dee that she has already promised the quilts to Maggie.
Maggie says Dee can have them, but the mother takes the quilts out of Dee"s hands and gives them to Maggie.
Dee then leaves, chiding the mother for not understanding her heritage, and encouraging Maggie to "make something of yourself." After Dee is gone, Maggie and the narrator relax contentedly in the back yard for the rest of the afternoon.
Dee insists that Maggie is incapable of appreciating the quilts. She exclaims, horrified, "She"d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."
For Dee, heritage is a curiosity to be looked at -- and something to put on display for others to look at, as