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Alice Walker and Everyday Use, Annotated Bibliography Example

Pages: 8

Words: 2175

Annotated Bibliography

Abstract

Alice Walker is believed to be one of the most popular writers in modern fiction. Her story Everyday Use is among the most frequently criticized and anthologized works of contemporary literature. This paper includes an annotated bibliography of the most interesting works of literary criticism concerning Walker’s Everyday Use. A brief summary of each work is provided. The paper also includes a discussion of the most common elements in the study of Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. The paper contributes to the current understanding of Alice Walker’s writing and its implications for literature.

Keywords: Alice Walker, Everyday Use, criticism, literature.

Introduction

Alice Walker is believed to be one of the most popular and challenging writers in modern literature. Much has been written and said about Alice Walker’s patterns of fiction writing and its implications for literature. Alice Walker’s story Everyday Use is probably her most anthologized work. Critics of literature seek to understand the message Walker sends and the degree to which this message reflects the complexities of racial oppression and stratification in the American society. Different critics emphasize different aspects of Alice Walker’s story. Yet, the link between quilting and storytelling, as well as the place of cultural heritage in the story are the two most popular objects of literary criticism. Modern critics try to change readers’ perceptions of Dee, her life changes, and her behaviors. The current state of research suggests that Dee is not as simple as she seems; moreover, she is not as negative as readers tend to perceive her. In the meantime, Walker’s Everyday Use exemplifies a complex collision of art and authentic, which have no clear boundaries but reflect the author’s autobiographic concern about oppression and the willingness to re-establish a personal sense of the self.

Walker, A. (1994). Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press.

Everyday Use is one of Walker’s early stories. Written in the best traditions of African-American fiction, Everyday Use remains the key element of Alice Walker’s creative career. The story begins with the two women, Mama and Maggie, waiting for Maggie’s sister Dee to come and see them. Both women have spent their entire lives in a small house in the deep rural South. Mama longs to see Dee, who was able to cross the boundaries of their small world and developed wits and style needed to live in a predominantly White society. Both Mama and Maggie have a hidden desire to hear how people in this Other world (a synonym of whiteness) live. Only in her dreams was Mama brave enough to leave her home. Yet, Dee does not seek family reunion; rather, she looks for something that can make her life and self-identity complete. Dee (Wangero) comes home looking for the quilts, and it is around these quilts that the whole story revolves. Mama does not expect to see Dee (Wangero) acting this way; she and Maggie have a feeling that Dee does not like the home place. The argument on whether or not she has the right to take the quilts reveals a profound misunderstanding between the old reality and the new world. At the end, Dee (Wangero) goes away without the quilts she longed to possess, leaving Mama and Maggie in their old rural house to wait for something that will never happen.

Cowart, D. (1996). Heritage and deracination in Walker’s Everyday Use. Studies in Short Fiction, 33(2), 171-184.

Cowart (1996) takes a unique critical perspective on Alice Walker’s Everyday Use: the author treats Walker’s story as an evaluation of the dilemma faced by African Americans in their striving to escape oppression and prejudice. Cowart (1996) believes that African Americans who seek liberation and renewal also face risks of a terrible deracination, a retreat from everything that used to define and sustain their unique cultural identity. In Cowart’s (1996) article, Dee is a young woman who thinks she has outgrown her family. She wants to appropriate the quilts she believes to be part of her identity. These quilts create and represent a broader link between Dee (Wangero) and the oppressive past of all African Americans. Wangero achieves a dream many oppressed failed to achieve in the past: she seeks cultural autonomy, which causes an erosion of everything valuable and valued by African-Americans. In a broader sense, Wangero is an embodiment of the cultural struggle so characteristic of her generation. She fails to escape the feeling of despise for her sister, her mother, and everything she used to have at home. Alice Walker treats these assimilation desires with respect and understanding, as “an attempt to restore a sense of identity terribly impaired by the wrongs visited on black people in the new world” (Cowart, 1996, p.174). Walker also shows that, in case of Wangero, these attempts are either misguided or selfish. Maggie, Dee’s sister, mirrors the author’s autobiographical self, who fights to attain the balance of freedom and heritage. Shallow Wangero is just another, self-mocking reflection of Alice Walker. Walker clearly mocks Dee’s ideas to develop and sustain a sense of belonging. She also positions herself as a sensitive creator of African American experiences, which invite and encourage recognition between the quilts and the new realities of racial life. Like Wangero is fighting to make her way through an array of conflicting ideas, so is Alice Walker, by mentioning and rationing the competing cultural ideologies. The quilts teach readers to preserve their identity; Walker’s Everyday Use teaches the value of literary art and linguistic tools required to preserve their self and cultural integrity intact.

Farrell, S. (1998). Fight vs. flight: A re-evaluation of Dee in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. Studies in Short Fiction, 35(2), 179-187.

Farrell (1998) reevaluates the place and role of Dee in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. According to Farrell (1998), “the point of the story is to show a mother’s awakening to one daughter’s superficiality and to the other’s deep-seated understanding of heritage” (p.179). Farrell (1998) emphasizes that Walker’s story is being told by Mama, and everything written and said about Dee and Maggie is being filtered through her views. These perceptions include but are not limited to Mama’s nervousness about Dee’s presence in the house and a deep-standing feeling of shame about her appearance. Many critics perceive Dee and her behaviors as the sign of separation from her past and the lack of understanding her cultural identity. However, the author insists that Dee is not as manipulative and condescending as many critics tend to believe. Rather, and despite her selfishness, Dee offers a new interpretation of heritage. Dee suggests the way African Americans can cope with the complexities of oppression in a racist society. The way Dee (Wangero) chooses for her is much more promising than the one chosen by Mama and Maggie. Neither Mama nor Maggie can escape the ‘ritualistic’ coloring of their meeting with Dee (Wangero), who looks like a goddess or a mythic stature coming from an outside world. The article allows for a deeper understanding of Dee’s role in Everyday Use, away from negativity toward personal balance and congruity. Farrell (1998) believes that, at the end of the story, Mama finally finds the right balance between the two visions of heritage – Maggie’s respect for stability and tradition and Dee’s pride in being different from her family.

Gruesser, J. (2003). Walker’s Everyday Use. The Explicator, 61(3), 183-185.

Gruesser’s vision of Everyday Use is unique, since the author uses animal imagery to analyze Walker’s characters. Gruesser (2003) asserts that each of the three characters, Maggie, Dee, and Mama, is either implicitly or explicitly associated with animals, whereas the entire story occurs in a ‘pasture’. Each of the three characters has something from animals – Maggie has the memory of an elephant and Dee’s pleading voice is as sweet as that of a bird. Mama’s comparisons between Maggie and animals are not uncommon: Maggie acts like a frightened animal and walks like a lame animal, running to someone too ignorant to be kind to him. It is through this human-animal epiphany that Mama suddenly realizes Maggie deserves the quilts more than Dee, who wants them merely because they are fashionable. Gruesser (2003) asserts that animal imagery and Walker’s Everyday Use create a perfect match. However, Walker goes even further and uses hangdog and hooking cows to reinforce the most important story lines. Animal imagery can become an excellent opportunity to reconsider the most familiar elements of Walker’s Everyday Use in a new light.

Tuten, N. (1993). Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”. The Explicator, 51(2), 125-128.

Tuten (1993) writes that most commentaries on Walker’s Everyday Use center on how Mama awakens to a deep understanding of heritage in one daughter and the other’s daughter superficiality. This is why the author tries to focus on the role of language and empowerment in Walker’s story. According to Tuten (1993), Walker emphasizes the significance of language for, as well as the destructive effects of language misuse on, the history and heritage. Dee exemplifies a unique source of knowledge, which she pours on Mama and Maggie the moment she enters her home place. Mama has a deep mistrust of language as an instrument of manipulation. She tries to express herself through deeds. The moment Mama takes the quilts from Dee and gives them back to Maggie is a silent climax of the story, which shows the power of language and, simultaneously, leaves no room for language misuse. Mama and Maggie develop a strong, nonverbal bond, and Dee’s presence makes this bond even stronger. What Mama does not expect is that their nonverbal alliance against Dee will eventually empower Maggie to smile “a real smile, not scared” (Tuten, 1993). Language misuse distorts the image of Dee (Wangero), but it also causes some kind of spiritual and cultural awakening in Maggie. Dee’s abuse of language undermines the traditional dominance of language over silence. Silence does not let Dee win the fight of dominance over Maggie and Mama. It is through silence that Mama narrates Dee out of her life and her story. It is through silence that Maggie acquires a new position in Mama’s narrative. Mama’s decision to keep the quilts with Maggie empowers the younger daughter and leaves her with the mouth open – an allegory, which exposes the decline of victimization and silence in Maggie.

Whitsitt, S. (2000). In spite of it all: A reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’. African American Review, 34(3), 443-459.

Whitsitt (2000) analyzes the body of criticism on Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. He also develops a new vision of cultural identity and reevaluates the link between art and authentic in Walker’s story. Whitsitt (2000) asks a difficult question: is the quilt the central figure of the story or is the story merely a figure of the quilt? Previous readings of Walker’s text were often displaced by an understanding that led critics outside of the text, closer to the culture, the author, her biography, etc. As a result, it is high time the boundary between art and authentic in Walker’s story were re-examined. There is a clear parallel between quilting and storytelling – storytelling resembles quilting, whereas the latter is used by women to avoid the pressure of the patriarchal norms. In Everyday Use, Walker articulates the importance of the art-authentic bondage: voiceless can develop and use a voice only through art’s appreciation. Dee is the artist who comes to Mama’s house in search of her voice. The artist cannot give his voice to the voiceless, but art can explain how the voiceless develop a voice. The moment the voiceless develop a voice, the quilt ceases to be an object of individual possession but drifts away to become a broad conceptualization of American cultural identity. This is particularly how quilts become a matter of commerce and marketing, instead of being a unique object of cultural identity. Mama and Maggie are on the authentic side of the battle, whereas Dee (Wangero) fights on the artistic side of the conflict. The moment Mama takes the quilts from Dee and gives them back to Maggie, she also saves them from drifting away. This is a clear sign of polarization between the worlds of Mama and that of Dee: Mama represents the ‘everyday use mentality, whereas Dee embodies a false aesthetics, which takes and places things out of use and home. Whitsitt (2000) suggests that, because the title of the story is ‘Everyday Use’, the main idea is that Mama and Maggie must keep the quilts at home. However, “one of Walker’s remarkable powers is not to let the insights gained through blindness reject or repress that blindness – in spite of what some might consider are the better interests for her self and her writings” (Whitsitt, 2000, p.458).

References

Cowart, D. (1996). Heritage and deracination in Walker’s Everyday Use. Studies in Short Fiction, 33(2), 171-184.

Farrell, S. (1998). Fight vs. flight: A re-evaluation of Dee in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. Studies in Short Fiction, 35(2), 179-187.

Gruesser, J. (2003). Walker’s Everyday Use. The Explicator, 61(3), 183-185.

Tuten, N. (1993). Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”. The Explicator, 51(2), 125-128.

Walker, A. (1994). Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press.

Whitsitt, S. (2000). In spite of it all: A reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’. African American Review, 34(3), 443-459.

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