Author Alice Walker is an African American woman who grew up in the rural south during segregation, as is the narrator in "Everyday Use", Ms. Johnson. Walker feels that one's name should be revered for its symbol of ancestry, as she did when she took back her maiden name to honor her great-great-great-grandmother. In Walker's "Everyday Use," she uses a symbolic quilt to express the differences of understanding one's heritage within a single family.
The precise setting of "Everyday Use" is not given but it can be assumed that the geographical setting is in a southern countryside likely to be in Georgia. The physical setting, a three-bedroom shack with a tin roof and irregular holes cut in the walls for windows, is in a pasture with cows roaming all around (356-57). The large yard is described as an "extended living room" because it is more comfortable than being inside the house where the breezes do not reach (354). The historical period in which this story takes place may be around the time of the civil rights movement. The publication date is roughly five to ten years after the peak of the movement.
The major characters in "Everyday Use" are a mother and her two daughters, Maggie and Dee (who later changes her name to Wangero). Dee's friend, Hakim-a-barber comes into the story as a foil. The mother, Ms. Johnson, is the narrator in the story as a static character. She is an African American woman with only a second grade education yet a self-reliant individual. She says that she has "rough, man-working hands" from laboring in the yard all day (355). She also raises and kills her own meals as she describes, "One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledge hammer and had the meat hung up to chill before nightfall" (355). She is a very hands-on type of woman not at all afraid of getting her hands dirty, obviously. At the conclusion of the story, she does undergo a significant change, although not a fundamental one.
Maggie and Dee are well-developed round characters. Maggie is a very insecure, unsociable girl while her sister Dee is very worldly but can often be a bit selfish and greedy. The reason behind Maggie's insecurities may be her scarred body and poor eyesight, which resulted from a house fire. She often cowers behind doors, chairs, or her mother, especially when her sister or strangers come around. Her mother describes her posture as "chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle" (355). Her mother suggests that she may be mentally deficient, so her future does not have much to offer other than being married-off to a man with "mossy teeth" (356). In contrast, Dee is a good-looking, confident woman. She has been educated with the financial help of her community. She enjoys material things like clothes, shoes, and jewelry and has had a sense of style since she was a teenager. In the duration of the story, she comes to her mother's home with a much different appearance than her family is use...