Everyday Use

by: Alice Walker

Important Quotations Explained

1. She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn’t necessarily need to know.

Mama speaks these words in reference to Dee’s formative years, when she would return home from boarding school in Augusta, full of newly acquired knowledge that she would lord over Mama and Maggie. Rather than her daughter’s intelligence and accomplishments triggering pride in Mama, Dee’s schooling prompts fear and intimidation in her instead. Like the fire that destroyed the family’s first house, knowledge is portrayed as a volatile and unwelcome presence that threatens the home’s safety, simplicity, and stability.

Education is the means through which Dee rejects and belittles her family, thus leading to division and alienation. At the same time, knowledge is a provocation, reminding Mama of the exposure and opportunities she was never given. Mama gives voice to her resentment at her own stalled schooling and finds comfort in her physical strength and endurance. Infused with negative connotations, education is suggested as a destructive force that harms individuals by exposing them to worlds to which they will never really belong. Some are harmed or excluded by the struggle to acquire learning and are destined to be like Maggie, hanging meekly in the doorway of a room that she will never be able to enter, shut out from the ability to change. For Mama, this threat is as real and unwanted as a fire racing through the rafters.