Everyday Use

by: Alice Walker

Dee

Dee is the object of jealousy, awe, and agitation among her family members, while as an individual she searches for personal meaning and a stronger sense of self. Dee’s judgmental nature has affected Mama and Maggie, and desire for Dee’s approval runs deep in both of them—it even appears in Mama’s daydreams about a televised reunion. However, Dee does not make much of an effort to win the approval of Mama and Maggie. Unflappable, not easily intimidated, and brimming with confidence, Dee comes across as arrogant and insensitive, and Mama sees even her admirable qualities as extreme and annoying. Mama sees Dee’s thirst for knowledge as a provocation, a haughty act through which she asserts her superiority over her mother and sister. Dee is also portrayed as condescending, professing her commitment to visit Mama and Maggie no matter what ramshackle shelter they decide to inhabit. Far from signaling a brand-new Dee or truly being an act of resistance, the new persona, Wangero, comes across as an attention-seeking ploy in keeping with Dee’s usual selfishness. Dee says she is reclaiming her heritage, but she has actually rejected it more violently than ever before.

Through Dee, Walker challenges individuals—including activists, separatists, or otherwise—who ignore or reject their heritage. These people prefer to connect themselves to an idealized Africa instead of to the lessons and harsh realities that characterized the black experience in America. Dee and Hakim-a-barber are aligned with the abstract realm of ideology, which contrasts starkly with the earthy, physical, labor-intensive lifestyle of Mama and Maggie. Dee is intrigued by their rustic realism, snapping photographs as though they are subjects of a documentary, and in doing so effectively cuts herself off from her family. Instead of honoring and embracing her roots, Dee looks down on her surroundings, believing herself to be above them.