Alice Walker: Everyday Use (1973)

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Editor: Catherine C. DiMercurio
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 272. )
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,521 words

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[(essay date 1993) In the following essay, Borgmeier offers a close reading of the short story “Everyday Use,” focusing on the tale’s “restrained” quality, Walker’s characterization of maternal figures, and her use of quilt imagery.]


Alice Walker, “Poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, biographer and […] editor,” (Evans 1985: 494) has become known to a wider public above all through her novel The Color Purple, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and which was filmed with great success by Steven Spielberg two years later. Through its protagonist Celie, who is raped by the man she calls father and coerced into a degrading marriage, but who in the end, manages to assert herself, the reader is given a vivid picture of the hard and at the same time colorful world of the Deep South between the World Wars with its particular problems for black women.

This is not a new subject for Alice Walker. It is to be found in her earlier narratives, and especially the characters of these narratives frequently show a remarkable resemblance to those of the prize-winning later work. Thus one critic observes—and it seems significant that, among his examples, he names the story which is being discussed here first—“Celie is not a ‘new’ character in Walker’s fiction; she is similar to one of the sisters in “Everyday Use” […]” (Davis 1983: 50). Walker’s short stories are highly interesting to the reader as a preparation for her later novel.

About the constant factors which basically determine her writing, the author herself says in an interview: “Because I’m black and I’m a woman and because I was brought up poor and because I’m a Southerner, … the way I see the world is quite different from the way many people see it.” (Quoted Davis: 40)

Poor black women of the American South are at the center of interest in each of the short stories in her first collection, which bears the characteristic title and subtitle: In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973). Alice Hall Petry, in an intelligent article, points out how impressive these early narratives are, much more convincing than those contained in the collection You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, published eight years later.

Walker herself comments after the publication of her first volume of short stories:

In my new book, In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, thirteen women—mad, raging, loving, resentful, hateful, strong, ugly, weak, pitiful, and magnificent—try to live with the loyalty to black men that characterizes all of their lives. For me, black women are the most fascinating creations in the world.(In Search: 251)The series of to some extent contradictory adjectives makes it evident that in this volume different facets and variations of the basic theme are fashioned and that the life of the black woman of the American South is depicted in the various stories from different points of view. Here Walker employs with indisputable success the special and genuine possibilities of the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420126819