4 Everyday Use
1for your grandmamma
I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy
yesterday afternoon. A yard like this is more comfortable than most
1 1.) About the author
Alice Walker (1944- ), poet, novelist and essayist, was born into a poor rural family in Eatonton, Georgia. Her parents made a living by growing cotton. When she went to Sarah Lawrence College in the early 60‟s, the civil rights movement was in full swing. She was actively involved in the movement and upon graduation worked in Mississippi, center of the civil rights activities. After experiencing the political movement and as a case worker for the New York City welfare department, she became a teacher of creative writing and black literature, lecturing at Jackson State College, Tougaloo College, Wellesley, Yale and University of California at Berkeley. Her writing career began with the publication of a volume of poetry in 1968, which was followed by a number of novels, short stories, critical essays and more poetry. Now she is regarded as one of the most prominent writers in American literature and a most forceful representative of women‟s literature and black literature.
Her works include The Thrid Life Grange Copeland (1970), Meridian (1976), a volume of poetry Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), a collection of short stories In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973) and a recent novel The Temple of My Familiar (1989). Her most significant novel is The Purple, published in 1982, which won all the three major book awards in America – the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The novel was an instant bestseller and made into an equally successful movie in 1985, directed by Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg.
Alice Walker is at her best when portraying people living in the rural areas where the writer was born and grew up. As a black writer, Walker is particularly interested in examining the relationships among the blacks themselves.
nd2.) “Everyday Use” (1973) is included in the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 2 Edition,
1981. “Everyday Use”, one of the best-written short stories by Alice Walker, describes three
women. The mother is a working woman without much education, but not without intelligence or perception. The two daughters form a sharp contrast in every conceivable way: appearance, character, personal experiences, etc. The story reaches its climax at the moment when Dee, the elder daughter, wants the old quilts only to e refused flatly by the mother, who intends to give them to Maggie, the younger one. The old quilts, made from pieces of clothes worn by grand and great grand parents and stitched by Grandma‟s hand, are clearly a symbol of the cultural heritage of the black people. Their different feelings about the quilts reveal their different attitudes towards their heritage as blacks.
1. wavy: characteristic of waves, resembling waves. Here the word describes the marks in wavy patterns on the clay ground left by the broom.
2people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an extended living room.
When the hard clay is swept clean as a floor and the fine sand around the
3, anyone can come and sit and edges lined with tiny, irregular grooves
look up into the elm tree and wait for the breezes that never come inside the house.
Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand
4hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the mixture of envy and
5awe. She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand,
6 that “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her.
You‟ve no doubt seen those TV shows where the child who has “made
78it” is confronted, as a surprise, by her own mother and father, tottering
in weakly from backstage. (A pleasant surprise, of course: What would
2 an extended living room: an enlarged living room by a new addition to the original space. Extended means prolonged, continued; enlarged in influence, meaning, scope, etc.
e.g. extended care: nursing care provided for a limited time after a hospital stay
extended family: a group of relatives by blood, marriage or adoption, often including a nuclear family, living together, esp. three generations are involved.
3 and the fine and … groves: Before the word “lined,” the link verb “is” omitted. fine: not coarse, in small particles. e.g. fine cloth, fine sugar
4 homely: not good-looking , or handsome; plain, unattractive
5 She thinks her sister…of one hand: She thinks that her sister has a firm control of her life.
6 “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her: She could always have anything she
wanted, and life was extremely generous to her.
7 confronted, as a surprise by her own mother and father: brought face to face with her own
mother and father unexpectedly
8 tottering: being unsteady on one‟s feet; staggering
they do if parent and child came on the show only to curse out and insult each other?) On TV mother and child embrace and smile into each other‟s face. Sometimes the mother and father weep, the child wraps them in her arms and leans across the table to tell how she would not have made it without their help. I have seen these programs.
Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought
9together on a TV program of this sort. Out of a dark and soft-seated
limousine I am ushered into a bright room filled with many people. There I meet a smiling, gray, sporty man like Johnny Carson who shakes my hand and tells me what a fine girl I have. Then we are on the stage and Dee is embracing me with tears in her eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid, even though she has told me once that she thinks orchids are tacky flowers.
In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working
1011hands. In the 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
9 a TV program of this sort: “This sort” carries a derogatory tone, suggesting that the TV
program is of poor or inferior kind.
10 In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands: The phrase
“in real life” is transitional, linking this paragraph and the one above, implying that those TV
programs are nothing but make-believe and the narrator is very skeptical of them. In reality she has the typical features of a black working woman.
11 overalls: loose-fitting trousers of some strong cotton-cloth, often with a part extending up over the chest, worn, usually over other clothes, to protect against dirt and wear.
16way is farthest from them. Dee, though. She would always look anyone
in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature.
“How do I look, Mama?” Maggie says, showing just enough of her thin body enveloped in pink skirt and red blouse for me to know she‟s there, almost hidden by the door.
“Come out into the yard,” I say.
Have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some
17careless person rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone who is
ignorant enough to be kind of him? That is the way my Maggie walks.
18She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle,
ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground.
19 Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure. She‟s a woman now, though sometimes I forget. How long ago was it that the other house burned? Ten, twelve years? Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie‟s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her
16 with my head turned…from them: in order to avoid them as much as possible, also from
discomfort, shyness, etc.
17 sidle up: move up sideways, especially in a shy or stealthy manner.
18 chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle: Maggie is so shy that she never raises her head or
eyes when looking at and talking to people, and she is always so nervous and restless that she is unable to stand still. Shuffle: to change or shift repeatedly from one position to another.
19 Dee is lighter than Maggie: Light here refers to the color of one‟s skin, complexion, not weight. The word fair is similar to light, and the opposite is dark.
20dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed
2122stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them. And Dee.
2324under the sweet gum tree she used to dig gum I see her standing off
out of; a look of concentration on her face as she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot brick chimney. Why don‟t you do a dance around the ashes? I‟d wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much.
I used to think she hated Maggie, too. But that was before we raised the
2526 to send her to Augusta to school. She money, the church and me,
used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks‟ habits,
27whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her
28voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of
20 her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes: Nominative
absolute construction. Papery: thin, light like paper. Flakes: a small thin mass, e.g. flakes of snow
21 stretched open, blazed open: wide open to the fullest extent
22 And Dee: An elliptical sentence. And there was Dee
23 Stand off: stand away, in a distance. 24 a sweet gum tree: a large North American tree of the witch hazel family, with alternate maple like leaves, spiny fruit balls, and flagrant juice. 25 the church and me: Incorrect grammar, it should be the church and I.
26 Augusta: city in eastern Georgia on the Savannah River. It is obvious that the family lives in the rural area in Georgia, a southern state in America.
27 forcing words, lies, other folk’s habits… on us two: The narrator implies that the books Dee
read to them were written by the white people and full of their language and ideas, falsehood and their way of life. Other folks refer to the white people. By reading those books, Dee forced them to accept the white people‟s views and values.
28 sitting trapped, and ignorant underneath her voice: Her reading was like a trap, and we
were like animals caught in the trap, unable to escape. Underneath her wice suggests a repressive
29knowledge we didn‟t necessarily need to know. Pressed us to her with
the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like
30 we seemed about to understand. dimwits,
31 Dee wanted nice things. A yellow organdy dress to wear to her
3233 from high school; black pumps to match a green suit graduation
she‟d made from an old suit somebody gave me. She was determined to
34stare down any disaster in her efforts. Her eyelids would not flicker for
3536minutes at a time. Often I fought off the temptation to shake her. At
37 sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was.
I never had an education myself. After second grade the school was
and imposing quality in her voice. 29 She washed us…need to know: She imposed on us lots of falsity and so-called knowledge
that is totally useless to us. The words washed and burned are used figuratively, indicating large quantities of a destructive nature. 30 dimwit: (slang) a stupid person, a simpleton
31 organdy (or organdie): a very sheer, crisp cotton fabric used for dresses, curtains, etc
32 to her graduation: to attend her graduation ceremony
33 pumps: low-cut shoes without straps or ties 34 She was determined…in her efforts: She was determined to face up and defeat any disaster
with her efforts. Stare down: to stare back at another until the gaze of the one stared at is turned away. Here disaster is personified. 35 Her eye lids would not flicker for minutes at a time: Again it shows that Dee was undaunted
with a strong character. She would look at anybody steadily and intently for a long time. 36 Often I fought off the temptation to shake her: Often I wanted so much to shake her, but I
restrained myself. Usually you shake somebody in order to touse that person to the awareness of something.
37 At sixteen she had a style of her own and knew what style was:
1) At sixteen she had a unique way of doing things.
2) and she knew what was the current, fashionable way of dressing, speaking, acting, etc.
Note the different meanings of the two styles in this sentence.
Some expressions with the word style:
in (grand) style: in a fashionable and luxurious way. e.g. The lady lives in style. to be in / out of style: to be in / out of fashion. e.g. Is the long skirt in / out of style this year?
closed down. Don‟t ask me why: in 1927 colored asked fewer questions
38than they do now. sometimes Maggie reads to me. She stumbles along
39 but can‟t see well. She knows she is not bright. Like good-naturedly
40good looks and money, quickness passed her by. She will marry John
Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest fame) and then I‟ll be free to
41sit here and I guess just sing church songs to myself. Although I never
was a good singer. Never could carry a tune. I was always better at a
42man‟s job. I used to love to milk till I was hooked in the side in ‟49.
Cows are soothing and slow and don‟t bother you, unless you try to milk them the wrong way.
I have deliberately turned my back on the house. It is three rooms, just
43like the one that burned, except the roof is tin; they don‟t make shingle
roofs any more. There are no real windows, just some holes cut in the sides, like the portholes in a ship, but not round and not square, with
44rawhide holding the shutters up on the outside. This house is in a
38 in 1927, the colored asked fewer questions than they do now:
1) In 1927, the colored people were more passive than they are now.
2) colored: of a group other than the Caucasoid, specially black
39 She stumbles along good-naturedly: She often makes mistakes while reading, but never
losing her good temper. Stumble: to speak, act or proceed in a confused, blundering manner. e.g. to stumble through a speech. 40 Like good looks … passed her by: She is not bright just as she is neither good-looking nor
rich. 41 church songs: hymns in praise or honor of God. 42 hook: to attack with the horns as by a bull. 43 shingle: a thin wedge-shaped piece of wood, slate, etc. laid with others in overlapping rows as a roof.
44 There are no real windows…on the outside:
1) portholes in a ship: small openings in a ship‟s side letting in light and air
pasture, too, like the other one. No doubt when Dee sees it she will want to tear it down. She wrote me once that no matter where we “choose” to live, she will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends. Maggie and I thought about this and Maggie asked me, “Mama, when did
45 Dee ever have any friends”?
She had a few. Furtive boys in pink shirts hanging about on washday
46after school. Nervous girls who never laughed. Impressed with her they worshiped the well-turned phrase, the cute shape, the scalding humor that erupted like bubbles in lye. She read to them.
When she was courting Jimmy T she didn‟t have much time to pay to us, but turned all her faultfinding power on him. He flew to marry a cheap city girl from a family of ignorant flashy people. She hardly had time to recompose herself.
47 When she comes I will meet-but there they are!
Maggie attempts make a dash for the house, in her shuffling way, but I
2) not round and not square: irregular in shape
rawhide: untanned or partially tanned cattle hide. 45 when did Dee ever have any friends? A rhetorical question, meaning Dee was not an easy
person to get along with, and she never really had any true friends.
46 Furtive boys in pink shirts hanging about … school:
1) furtive: done or acting in a stealthy manner, as if to hinder observation;
surreptitious , stealthy, sneaky
2) hang about: (or around) a. to cluster around; b. (colloquial) to loiter or linger
washday: a day, often the same day every week, when the clothes, linens, etc. of a household are washed 47but there they are: Before I could meet them (in the yard), they have already
48stay her with my hand. “Come back here.” I say. And she stops and
tries to dig a well in the sand with her toe.
It is hard to see them clearly through the strong sun. but even the first glimpse of leg out of the car tells me it is Dee. Her feet were always neat-looking, as if God himself had shaped them with a certain style. From the other side of the car comes a short, stocky man. Hair is all over
49his head a foot long and hanging from his chin like a kinky mule tail. I
50hear Maggie suck in her breath. “Uhnnnh,” is what it sounds like. Like
when you see the wriggling end of a snake just in front of your foot on
51the road. “Uhnnnh.”
Dee next. A dress down to the ground, in this hot weather. A dress so
52loud it hurts my eyes. There are yellows and oranges enough to throw
53back the light of the sun. I feel my whole face warming from the heat
waves it throws out. Earrings gold, too, and hanging down to her
48 I stay her with my hand: I stop her from rushing off with my hand. Stay (vt.): to stop, halt or check. Note that the simple present tense is used in this paragraph and the following five paragraphs in describing actions that took place in the past time. The purpose is to make the story telling more vivid.
49 kinky: (colloquial) full of short, twisty curls, tightly curled
50 I heard Maggie suck in her breath … it sounds like:
1) suck in her breath: inhale her breath
Uhnnnh: an exclamation of a strong negative response 51 Like when you see … on the road: An elliptical sentence. It‟s the kind of disgusted response you have when you see the wriggling end of a snake just in front of your foot on the road. Wriggle: to move to and fro with a twisting and writhing motion
52 A dress so loud: A dress in such loud colors. Loud: attracting attention by being unpleasantly colorful and bright. e.g. a loud pattern
53 There are yellows and oranges…the light of the sun: There are bright yellow and
orange colored patterns which shine even more brightly than the sun. throw back: to reflect