*This is a paper I wrote in college about the essay Everyday Use by Alice Walker.*
"Everyday Use", by Alice Walker, gives us a realistic look at how difficulties can affect people in different ways. Some allow trials to paralyze them, keeping them stuck in self-defeating patterns. Others permit bitterness to creep in, ccausing them to be dominated by greed. Finally, we see how destructive both approaches are, and realize that a more balanced course is necessary if success is to be realized.
The story introduces us to Maggie and Dee, two girls who have been touched by the heavy hand of affliction. They have lost their home to a fierce fire, and they ahve lived under the oppression of poverty. Each have been scarred by their circumstance, Maggie by the fire, and Dee by bitterness over her poverty.
We first meet Maggie, a self-concous, cowering young woman who has learned well the art of giving in. She not only gives in to her older sister, but she also gives in to her circumstances. Her victim mentality cripples her, causing her to believe the lie that she will never amount to anything. Maggie demonstrates her defeatist attitude when she concedes to let Dee have the treasured quilts that were handstitched by their grandmother. Feeling inferiour to Dee, she accepts what she believes is her lot in life. She never even dares to dream that she deserves better. We are told that "this was Maggie's portion. This was the way she knew God to work".
It is easy for us to feel sorry for Maggie until we remember that being a victim is not an honorable thing. Certainly she has had a difficult life, but that does nto excuse her from taking responsibility for her future. She is undoubtedly a valuable person with talents like anyone else, but lacking any confidence, she hides her attributes in much the same way as she hides her scarred hands in the folds of her skirt. She fails to recognize that everone faces difficulties in life, but ultimately we alone are responsible for our lives. We must embrace obstacles as challenges that can be overcome. We can fail and not be a failure, or we can fail and become a failure. It is for us to decide.
We then meet Dee, a young woman determined to make a better life for herself. Unfortunately, she has become misdirected in her search for success and becomes the very thing she despises - an oppressor. She makes an issue of the oppression that African-Americans have suffered at the hands of white people. She goes so far as to change her name so as not to be "named after the people who oppress me". She also tells Maggie that "it's really a new day for us", but in her attempt to take advantage of her family, she treats them in much the same way that whites have treated African-Americans for years.
Dee, like her sister, believes a lie. She believes money and possessions can make her "somebody". She is spoiled by her insatiable lust for more, unaware tha tgreed is a vicious monster who's appetite can never be satisfied. She has become a victim of her own ambition. She is as sad a character as her sister, for she too will live an unfulfilled life.
Her hunger for more is revealed when she tries to manipulate her family into giving her the quilts. She does not want the quilts for sentimental reasons as Maggie does, but only for their monetary value and stylish appeal.
It is not wrong to desire a better life for ourselves, but a distorted veiw of success causes us to strive for it in destructive ways. True success has a humble attitude. It possesses a wisom tha twill not allow it to forget where it came from and hold onto it's hearitage without shame. It is willing to serve others. It is unafraid to dream and then to work hard to see those dreams realized. It does not give up, but it continues on in spite of failure. True success cannot be achieved, it is somethign that must be developed.
These are virtues that the mother could not pass on to her daughters because she only possessed them in part herself. She was willing to work hard, and she did dream of a better life, but she never believed she could see her dreams come to pass. She only saw reality. She was blind to possibility.
The story concludes with a hint of hope for change for Maggie and her mother. Upon having some revelation, the mother snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie, and we see Maggie smile a genuine smile. It is unclear as to whether the change will be lasting or only temporary, but perhaps it is not necessary for us to know. It is enough to hope.
From this story we learn that attitude makes all the difference when trials come. From time to time everone will face obstacles, but through adopting an optimistic attitude and keeping our priorities in clear focus, difficulties can be overcome. Success is often more satisifing to the one who has had to struggle to overcome some deficit in order to attain it. If we allow them, even our worst experiences can be used to spur us on to greatness.