The Use of Mrs. Johnson’s Point of View in Everyday Use, a Short Story by Alice Walker

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In the story “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker uses Mrs. Johnson’s perspective to highlight the contrasting nature of her two daughters. Despite Dee’s academic background, she remains unaware and incapable of appreciating the true significance of her cultural roots. Mrs. Johnson effectively portrays her own self-perception and recognizes the stark differences between her daughters, both of whom were raised in the same culture with shared traditions but have divergent definitions of their heritage. Despite the hardships she has endured from the fire, Maggie comprehends the deeper meaning behind symbolic objects like the quilts and butter churn mentioned in the narrative. In contrast, Dee views these items as mere decorative objects and criticizes her mother and sister for their traditional lifestyle.

The story emphasizes the importance of point of view, as it solely relies on Mama’s [Mrs. Johnson] perspective to describe her two daughters and interpret their actions. Mrs. Johnson, an old-fashioned, uneducated woman, depicts herself as “a large, big- boned woman with rough, man-working hands. (Walker 155)” who still lives traditionally, as does her younger daughter Maggie. Both hold sentimental value to the objects in their home because of their origin and symbolic meaning, while Dee, an educated and modernized woman, only values style. Dee represents the new generation and believes that clothing, hair, and decorative items in her home should reflect heritage.

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Mrs. Johnson recounts various episodes from Dee’s early life to illustrate her disinterest in her family’s heritage. When Mama offered Dee a quilt to take to college, Dee dismissed it as “old-fashioned, out of style (walker 160).” In a letter, Dee also declared that she would visit her family no matter where they lived, but would not bring her friends along (walker 157). However, when she returns, Dee has a change of heart. She now claims to appreciate her heritage and desires the quilts she previously rejected, calling them “priceless (walker 160).” She expresses amazement at her grandmother’s hand-stitching skills. Furthermore, Dee brings home a boy named Asalamalakim and even takes photographs of the house she once refused to show her friends.

Dee changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo because she couldn’t tolerate being named after the people who oppress her (walker 158). She discarded a name that had been passed down in her family for generations, as her mother points out that it could be traced back beyond the Civil War (walker 158). Despite being educated, Dee fails to recognize her own ignorance concerning her heritage. She opts for a name that may make her feel more African, but it holds no significance for her family or their traditions. The irony arises when she wants to take the butter churn crafted from the “beautiful light yellow wood, from a tree that grew in the yard where Big Dee and stash had lived” (walker 159) – the very people she claims oppress her. When Mama refuses to let Dee take the quilts, Dee becomes upset and accuses her mother of not understanding her heritage (walker 161), when, in fact, it is Dee herself who has changed everything and abandoned tradition. She believes that because she is educated and has altered her way of life, her perception of heritage is superior to that of her uneducated mother and sister.

It is crucial to consider Mama’s perspective as she is intimately connected to the two characters, Maggie and Dee. By assuming that she describes her daughters as they truly are, we understand the importance of obtaining Mama’s point of view. Had Dee been the storyteller instead of Mama, the reader may have been influenced to believe that materialistic possessions best represent heritage rather than sentimental values. In addition, the reader may have agreed with Dee’s embarrassment towards her mother’s lifestyle. Through the portrayal of Maggie, who seems to uphold the same traditions as her mother, it is evident that if Maggie were the narrator, she might harbor similar sentiments towards her sister’s mindset. Alternatively, perhaps Maggie’s attachment to her traditions stems from her lack of exposure to anything different.

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The Use of Mrs. Johnson’s Point of View in Everyday Use, a Short Story by Alice Walker. (2023, Feb 26). Retrieved from

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