Everyday Use is a story of heritage, pride, and learning what kind of person you really are. The story examines how black Americans during the early 70's were confused about their identity as Americans and their African heritage. The story opens with the narrator which is Mama describing Dee and Maggie's childhood experiences and how different they always were from each other in rural Georgia. The reader learns that Dee was the type of child that got everything and had everything that she wanted, while Maggie was the complete opposite. The author uses many points that show us the difference between the two sisters.
Throughout the story Walker describes how Maggie's fashion sense is limited largely in part because she grew up in the rural area all her life, her sister being more beautiful and lighter than she was and the fact that she got burnt at a young age which probably caused some severe self esteem problems. Mama further explains Maggie's self esteem problem when she says "She has been like this chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet I shuttle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground,"(Walker 1335). Maggie probably felt like she had to compete with her older sister all her life but because she just could not keep up with her. We see how highly she thought of her sister when Mama says "She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand," this show the reader how Maggie thought of her sister most of their lives (1334).
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Mama early on describes herself as a "large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands" (1334). She does not paint an attractive picture of herself but she however justifies herself by showing the reader that her life has given her experience over the years. Walker
portrays Mama and Maggie's relationship as a very close and tight one which is an example of heritage that is being from one generation to another through the closeness they have. The learning and the experiences that mother and daughter share symbolize the connection between generations and the heritage that passed between them. Mama's relationship with her oldest daughter Dee however is not the same since Dee had left for college, even though she wishes they were still close. She talks early on about how "Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I suddenly brought together on a TV program of some sort," this is obviously a mother's wishful thinking about how she dreams about the two of them being reunited (1334). Dee is introduced in the story as someone who always had her sights on the bigger things in life. Dee was always determined to go to college and she showed this early in her life by antagonizing her mother and sister with readings and knowledge they did not need. However she is very self-centered, and has chosen to distance herself from her family because she feels like she is better than them. We first see her negativity towards her family when she writes to her mother saying "No matter where we 'choose' to live, she will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends (1336). This shows the reader how Dee is obviously now ashamed of her family and where she comes from.
Upon her return though, the first impression the reader gets of Dee is that she has left her rural roots and turned herself into a city woman. The first thing she says to her mother after Mama addresses her as Dee is "No, Mama, Not Dee, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!" this is the first of the many signs that Dee has forgotten where she came from with the changing of family given name (1335). This was not uncommon though in this time since a lot of young college educated African American changed their names to honor their civil rights movement. Dee disregards the importance of her name and the fact that the she was named after her Aunt, who also was named after her Grandmother. When Mama tries to understand the reason for the name change, Dee's answer to that was "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me," (1337). Although Dee is a very educated individual, we see that she lacks the understanding of her own identity and does not even try to understand her original name's history but instead she renames herself with a name she barely even knows where it comes from. Later, when they all get settled in the house, Dee does not waste time and begins to take various items that belong to Mama without really asking for permission. She gets hold of a churn top and a dasher that a family member had made for the family years ago, and both these items were still being put to good use. Dee seems to not really care about her family's needs but her own and goes on to tell her mother that she taking them back with her so that she can "use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table" (1338).
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She then moves on to grab some quilts and again proceeds to claim them before really asking her mother. Mama softly asks her to instead the other quilts available in the house but Dee insists on the ones she has. Mama even tries to reason with her but again Dee insists. After some back and forth Mama finally tells her that the quilts had been intended for Maggie and Dee's reply to that was that "Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags" (1339). The fight over the quilts is deeper than just Dee wanting them for artistic purposes. Dee believes heritage to be the quilt on the wall or the churn in the alcove. She knows who made the items and how they did it but she lacks knowledge in the history of the items. Yet, Mama does know the knowledge and history and knows that Maggie does too and these items are essential to their everyday lives. The quilts represent who they are because they have been passed down from generation to generation, and not only just the quilts themselves but the skill to make handmade quilts. Since Dee does not possess any of that she has pretty much lost her family identity and her identity as an individual, she'll never understanding the meaning of her heritage because she refused to be associated with that. Everyday Use is told in first person, this enhances the identity theme because the reader gets to understand what she feels and how she is desperately wants her daughter to find out who she really is. The story itself shows how one cannot abandon their identity for someone they are not because that just robs the future of their entire heritage.
The Lesson is also a story of growth of person, identity, and the most valuable lessons in life which are those that are not learned at school and make us who we are. This story is about an educated black woman, named Ms. Moore who takes the poor and underprivileged neighborhood children to the fancy F.A.O. Schwarz. Back in 1972 when Bambara published this story, it was common that the social class a person belonged to or where that person lived determined the amount of opportunities that individual could have. The major theme in this story is how a school teacher who lives in the Ghettos of New York tries to educate young kids so that they find their own identities in life and break away from the inevitable future that was poverty and not pursing an education.
The story is set in urban New York where Ms. Moore, a young African American teacher uses her free time during summer to take kids in her community on field trips so that they get to experience other things besides their norm in the ghetto. On this particular summer's day, the author takes us in to the life of a young African American girl and her friends while they wait by the mailbox for their new neighbor, Ms Moore. Ms Moore is not like the rest of the woman her age in the neighborhood. The narrator describes her as "The only woman on the block with no first name. And she was black as hell," clearly pointing out how different she was from the others (Bambara 82). Ms. Moore is however very educated with a college degree. She is the kids' mentor because their parents seem not to care much about them or what they do in life. It is clear that she takes the initiative to try and broaden the children's horizon and expose them to new experiences. The kids obviously resent Ms. Moore because to them they view her lessons as a way to stop them from having fun during the summer. We get introduced to Sylvia, the narrator in the story, and early on we notice that she is very arrogant, stubborn, sassy, and tough. She just dislikes the whole idea of learning and does not take well to authority. We see this when she describes her frustration towards Ms. Moore when she says "I'm really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree" (82). Sylvia shows reader more of her angry side when she openly says in front of Ms. Moore that she would rather "terrorize the West Indian kids and take their hair ribbons and money too" (83).
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Ms. Moore hands 5 dollars to Sylvia for a taxi ride to the toy store with some of the other kids, Sylvia right away is thinking about how she is going to spend the money on herself. The kids are taken to the toy store which is located on 5th street and right away they are all feeling out of place except Mercedes who seems like she has been this part of New York before. When Ms. Moore tells the kids to go ahead and walk in the store, naturally Sylvia leads the way but when she gets to the door she holds back and cannot do it. She explains this by saying "I feel funny, shame," this shows how her whole act of being tough and strong minded was only limited to her own environment (85). Once in the store the kids start noticing all these expensive toys that they could not possibly afford. After they leave the store, Sylvia and her cousin Sugar are in the back of the train and the whole ride back Sylvia keeps thinking about how expensive those toys were and what could possibly be done with that money instead. "Thirty five dollars would pay for the rent and the piano bill too. Who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1000 for toy sail boats? What kinda work they do and how they live and how come we ain't in on it?" (424) Sylvia is very hostile about the money spent on these expensive toys and at the same time, angry that she doesn't have the money to do the same. This explains when she first walked in the store and felt funny and shameful, because Sylvia now realizes that for the first time she was ashamed of her social standing and identity. Even when faced with the reality that she needs to better herself as a person and hopefully pursue a better life, she still is very stubborn about admitting it. Ms. Moore's field trip to the expensive store was her way of showing the kids that they deserve the better things in life and need to better themselves to get there. She wants them to recognize the potential that they have. This comes with figuring out their identity and what type of person they can be. She wants them to know that just because you are put at a disadvantage does not mean they have to stay at a disadvantage, but rather use it to better that situation. Like her, Ms. Moore was from the same environment as those kids but she never forgot who she was or where she came from. Bambara's The Lesson shows how one's should always strive to have your own identity and pass it down to the generations to come.
In the stories The Lesson by Bambara and Everyday Use by Walker, both stories are written in slang as the main dialogue. By using this type of dialogue, the reader gets to understand what kind of situation the characters are in and makes the story seem more real. The language and setting in both stories fit each other perfectly which makes it easier for one to understand the theme. In both stories, there is one character that stands out and shows the reader how identity seems to be an issue in both situations. In The Lesson, it is Ms. Moore and in Everyday Use it is Dee. They both share the same type of conflict, which is that they are away from their families and happen to be the ones that went to college. They both have to figure out where they fit in, and both try to find their identities in two very different settings. Ms. Moore is content with who she is and helps out the kids in her neighborhood while trying to make them better people, while Dee covers up who she is and fulfills her life with materialistic objects to make herself feel like she is better than everyone else.