Posted in Short Stories

Alice Walker: Everyday Use

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 12

It’s probably been over thirty years since I read Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Color Purple. As much as I enjoyed it, it’s a shame that I’ve waited this long to read any of her other work. But better late than never and her short story “Everyday Use” is just as mesmerizing as her novel – just in shorter form.

The female narrator, living in an impoverished rural environment, has a daughter that was able to go to college and become successful at least by most of the world’s standards. A story of someone making something of themselves or pulling themselves up by their bootstraps is a common plot and can be inspiring; however, the story of those they left behind isn’t as common and is the focus of Walker’s story.

The mother doesn’t appear to regret sending her daughter to college but it does appear that she didn’t count on her daughter feeling ashamed of her background. When the daughter comes to visit, both struggle to find where the other one fits into their lives.

What sets this story apart from others like it, is that its the mother’s story and not the daughter’s:

In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In winter I wear flannel nightgowns to bed and overalls during the day. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. My fat keeps me hot in zero weather. I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing; I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire minutes after it comes steaming from the hog.

Who’s more successful? Who has worked harder? Those are good questions.

This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the Ace of Clubs for Week 12 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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