It's pretty fitting that Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is included in a short story collection called In Love and Trouble. You know, because it's got love… and trouble, trouble, trouble.
Walker published this collection of stories in 1973, exactly a decade before she won the Pulitzer Prize for a little book you might've heard of called The Color Purple. Like that super famous novel, "Everyday Use" explores African-American women's struggles with racial identity and racism during a particularly tumultuous period of history (yeah, you guessed it, that's where some of the trouble comes from).
But the story is also about a much more basic conflict: good old-fashioned sibling rivalry.
In "Everyday Use," Dee returns to her mother's home to lay claim to a couple of handmade quilts that she thinks would make really cool decorations for her new place. Dee's the kid in the family who's used to getting everything she wants so this shouldn't be any problem, except it turns out that her mother's been saving the quilts for her younger sister Maggie. All of this may not sound like a big deal, but if you've ever happened to catch an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, you know just how intense sisterly quarrels can get. And this tale has more fireworks than the Fourth of July.
Alice Walker was no stranger to sibling conflict herself. During a rousing game of Cowboys and Indians when she was a kid, one of her brothers accidentally shot her in the face with a BB gun, leaving her blind in one eye. Her bros then pressured her not to tell her parents the truth about what happened to her, so she ended up keeping the secret. Her experience telling this lie haunted her throughout her life. (Source.)
On top of all this, "Everyday Use" manages to make quilts exciting. This alone makes it worth checking out, don't you think?
Why Should I Care?
Anyone who's planning to go off to college should probably study "Everyday Use" very carefully—and not just because it contains metaphors and symbolism, which are definitely good to be familiar with come college time. The story also offers a good lesson on how not to treat your parents after they've spent their time, money, and energy trying to help you have a better life; it's like a primer on how to show gratitude to the people who gave you so much, no matter how brilliant you think college makes you.
Dee, one of the story's central characters, would probably have been that person voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school. We don't exactly know what she does, but her mother assures us that she's made it. Dee's success is due in large part to her mother, who raised money with the church to send her to a fancy private school. Just think about the number of cupcakes (mmm… cupcakes) this lady and her church pals probably had to sell just to cover one year's tuition—that's a whole lot of frosting.
Instead of gratitude though, Dee shows up one day to give her mother major attitude (yeah, that rhymed).
You see, now that she's gotten her fancy education and become totally enlightened about the world, she decides it's high time to teach her mother a thing or two. But rather than looking smart, she mostly just ends up looking like a jerk.
Warning: things are going to get ugly in this story. But your parents may thank you for reading it.