Essay: Everyday Use and the Things They Carried

Pages: 4 (1440 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage  ·  Buy This Paper

English Literature

The short stories "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker and "The Red Convertible" by Louise Erdrich both concern the American Dream to some extent. Rather than its fulfillment however, the stories describe how the dream has been broken. The persons in each respective story have a past in which the dream was whole, with the rich potential of fulfillment. The trauma and the unhappiness of reality however break the dreams and leave in their wake only a hollow echo of the innocence that was once the beginning of a dream and the promise of joy.

Everyday Use by Alice Walker

The three mainly important characters in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" are a black mother and two daughters, each representing a different aspect of the manifestation of the current form of their hopes and dreams. Mama is the mother, Dee the beautiful but empty-hearted daughter and Maggie the representative of the past (Powell).

Mama is practical, and takes pride in the things she is able to do. Her "dream" lives in the present moment, without being overly concerned over the past or the future. Her previous house burned down, but she is able to create for herself and her family a new home in which to live. She also has a number of heirlooms that she would leave behind for her daughters, although these do not seem to hold a large amount of meaning for her. She is a simple, uneducated woman who nonetheless uses what abilities she has to provide her family with their needs. To her, Dee has become a stranger with whom she nonetheless attempts to connect on a practical level, although this daughter at times angers her with her selfishness and emptiness. Mama represents the realities of the broken American Dream, but also the strength to cope with this and to move forward with life on a very practical scale (Powell).

Maggie, on the other hand, represents the pain of the broken dream. She is permanently scarred in the fire that burned down their previous home. She is the opposite of the beautiful Dee; deeply touched by both the flames and the destruction they caused on both a practical and spiritual level. Maggie also represents an attachment to a past that can no longer be. She is the embodiment of the importance that tradition holds for the marginalized people of the United States. As such, she has no connection with the present or the future. Her scars are the result of the violence that superimposed the American dream on all that was beautiful in the cultures of the past. Mama is able to handle this and use what is left to move on. Maggie is not (Whitsitt). She lives her life in the shadows of the dichotomy between the dream and its hollow fulfillment that is only meant for the beautiful and the rich, represented by Dee.

Dee is the beautiful daughter. Walker notes that she is "lighter" than Maggie and therefore more likely to make a success according to the requirements of a world in which white people have the power. Rather than an attempt to reconnect with her family, Dee's return home only serves to emphasize her disconnection from them. She is the one who comes closest to the fulfillment of the material side of the American Dream. She is rich, beautiful, educated, and a social success. Her attempt to take the quilts that are meant for Maggie demonstrates her misunderstanding of the importance of culture and heritage. She wants to put them on display rather than use them for their original purpose. This demonstrates that, to her, culture is no longer a practical or useful thing, but rather a trophy to be displayed. This is profoundly disrespectful towards both her mother and her sister (Powell).

Although Dee believes that she is respecting and preserving her culture in this way, what she does is simply putting on display an aspect of her culture that she believes will further her social standing. By using it in this way, her heritage becomes something of the past, to be separated from the identity she considers herself to have inherited. Throughout the story, Dee makes it clear that she considers her family and their lifestyle as something of a lower quality than her own, educated existence. Indeed, while… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Everyday Use and the Things They Carried.  (2008, October 26).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/everyday-use-things-carried/2012544

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"Everyday Use and the Things They Carried."  26 October 2008.  Web.  22 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/everyday-use-things-carried/2012544>.

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"Everyday Use and the Things They Carried."  Essaytown.com.  October 26, 2008.  Accessed July 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/everyday-use-things-carried/2012544.