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Everyday Use
Submitted by Trudy Schrandt (profile)

Title and Author: Everyday Use by Alice Walker
Genre: Short story
Themes: Reality vs. illusion, society's artificial boundaries, prostituted ideals (movements), love defining beauty and giving it meaning
Class Type: Male, different age groups, most with chemical dependency or violence issues

This is a story of a poor black family preparing for and living through a visit from the "successful" daughter (Dee). The mother has lived by the land and her faith. She raised two daughters. One daughter (Maggie) was badly scarred in their house fire. The other is a beautiful, well-educated, "successful" woman living in the big city.

When Dee returns home, Mamma and Maggie are afraid of her and a bit in awe of her. Throughout the story, Dee's values and commitment to her new life are revealed. By the end of the story, Mamma has a new perspective on which daughter understands the world, its trials, and how to succeed in it as a true person.

Approach: I find it helpful to have a picture of a black man and woman with an Afro hairdo, chieftan wardrobe, tie-dye shirt, sandals, etc. This helps the younger members of the group relate to certain descriptions and understand the conflict.

We spend a goodly amount of time on comparison and contrast as this holds the key.

--Mamma versus what Dee wants of Mamma
--Dee versus Wangero
--Dee versus Maggie
--Wangero versus her companion
--Marriage versus relationships
--Use of different items: names, Polaroids, bench, butter churn, quilts
--Comparisons: Mamma and Maggie, values and lives lived

Once these have been discussed, the story is pretty much laid out on the table before us. We can then begin discussion of Maggie's flawed statement, "You ought to do something with yourself; it's really a new day for us." The question, "When is progress a step backwards?" opens up a wonderful discussion area.

The concept of what is real in live versus fads/movements that come and go is an important part of the discussion. Following the crowd versus defining your own self and your own standards often leads to good introspection by the class participants.

More often than not, the concept of true love not being skin deep but found in the essence of the person comes across. Many of the participants have been rejected for whatever reason(s), and they feel scarred like Maggie. To discover the moral victory Maggie achieves because of who she is not what front she presents is often very rewarding.

Although this is a story about a black family at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, it is much deeper than that, and its lessons easily transcend to the present day and many issues the participants deal with on a day-to-day basis as they confront drugs, alcohol, decaying family values, and violence as norms in today's society.

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