Free Essay

Everyday Use

In: English and Literature

Submitted By spiritdancer411
Words 2000
Pages 8
Toni Delgado
Holper
English 1B
9 Nov. 2010
Everyday Use When I was kid I was quiet, shy and never stood up for myself. Today I’m loud, brash and I always get my point across. You would never recognize me from that little kid I once was. My change was not a choice, rather, a necessity forced upon me to strengthen me. I changed because I needed to. Everybody changes. People start one way and end their lives another accordingly to the roads they have traveled. The roads I’ve taken have taught me to stand up and make people take notice of me. People are all following their own paths growing and changing as they go. We all take roads and each road will take you to a different point. Joseph Campbell came up with “The Hero’s Journey” to illuminate these changes a person goes through. These are a set of stages a hero, or person, go through during a significant time. Campbell writes, “Stories of these mythological adventures are really metaphors and symbols for the “journeys” in life that all of us go through as we pass from one stage to another” (par.2). Everybody goes through these stages one way or another. That’s life. We see these stages in Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” Mrs. Johnson, the hero, changes from a quiet, unconfident, passive woman to a woman who at the end of the story finally stands up for herself. She changed because of the situation and people that were placed in front of her. Mrs. Johnson begins the story “Everyday Use” as unconfident and passive. Her oldest daughter Dee is coming home for a visit and she doesn’t believe Dee will appreciate all that she is. She doesn’t seem to think much of herself. She describes herself as “a larger big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (Walker par.5). Her words make it seem as if it is a bad thing to be sturdy. Mrs. Johnson is timid. She makes a remark about who could look a white man in the eye. She posits, “it seems to me I have talked to them always with one foot raised in flight, with me head fumed in whichever way is the farthest from them” (par. 6). She stands clear of anybody who is the least bit forceful. Further along in the story as Mrs. Johnson compares Dee’s male friend, Hakim-a-Barber, to Muslim people down the street. “You must belong to those beef-cattle peoples down the road…when white folks poisoned some of the herd the men stayed up all night with rifles in their hands. I walked a mile and a half just to see the sight” (par. 43). To her it is a rare sight to see a person stand up for themselves. She cannot fathom it herself and must walk to see the sight as if it is a movie or show. This is how Mrs. Johnson has lived her life. She has always been indeterminate. She has had no reason to become anything else.
A person doesn’t usually change until an event happens that forces that change. “The Hero’s Journey outlines this transformation best. It isn’t until near the end of the story that we see this change take place for Mrs. Johnson. The first stage in “The hero’s Journey” is “The Call”. (Hero par. 4) This is usually in the beginning of a story when a person hears of the quest. In the case of our story, “Everyday Use”, Walker starts in the third stage. This stage is referred to as “Preparation for the Quest”. This is where a person begins to prepare for the story. Often they pack or make things to take on their journey to help ready them for what is to come. In “Everyday Use” Mrs. Johnson’s dose not leave her house on her journey. She prepares, unknowingly, for her journey by cleaning her house and yard. “I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon,” is Mrs. Johnson’s first line of the story (par. 1). Although we do not know right away what journey Mrs. Johnson is about to undertake we know there is a journey coming by this preparation. Mrs. Johnson is unaware of her own journey. To her, she is only getting ready for a visit from her daughter.
Soon after Dee arrives she is reunited with her mother as a changed woman. She brings with her a man named Hakim-a-barber. Dee and Hakim seemed to be absorbed in the 1960’s African American Movement referred to as Cultural Nationalism. At this time African Americans were fighting for rights and liberation by denouncing their birth names and retreating to a more African name. Dee comes home to Mrs. Johnson and declares her new name is Wangero. When Mrs. Johnson ask what happen to Dee, Wangero asserts, “She’s dead, I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (par.27). Dee has been taken away by this movement young college students in the city are a part of. Mrs. Johnson, being uneducated and living in the remote country has not heard of these new ideas. They confuse her and she does not understand where they come from or the meaning behind them. This is where the next stage of “The Hero’s journey” comes into play for Mrs. Johnson. She is now in the fourth stage, “Crossing the Threshold.” The is the beginning of the actual journey where the hero crosses over to a new world or way of thinking where things are different from what they are used to (par. 8). Dee, or rather Wangero, coming home and thrusting this new culture on Mrs. Johnson is something new that she has never dealt with.
As Wangero visits her family she speaks of her new found love for family surroundings, before she hated the house and the things that went with it. She couldn’t wait to be gone. Mrs. Johnson was prepared for that Wangero to come back; the one who looked down on them and hated their things. Now Wangero is praising everything. Mrs. Johnson comments, “Everything delighted her. Even the fact that we still used the benches her daddy made for the table when we couldn’t afford to buy chairs” (par. 45). Mrs. Johnson was not ready for Wangero to begin asking for things. This stage of the journey is referred to as “The Road of Trials” (par. 10). Difficult task will present themselves to the hero and they must find a way to overcome them. The first obstacle that Wangero presents is she begins to ask for things; simple objects of the house that before didn’t mean anything to her, but now, because of this new cultural movement, have become valuable. She first asks for the churn Mrs. Johnson’s sister’s husband made. This is the churn Mrs. Johnson and Maggie still use. Wangero wants it as an object of show but to Mrs. Johnson and Maggie it is more than that. As Wangero jumps to take the churn and quickly wraps it Mrs. Johnson expresses sentiment and reluctance to let go this family object.
“I took it for a moment in my hands. You didn’t even have to look close to see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood. In fact, there were a lot of small sinks; you could see where the thumbs and fingers had sunk into the wood. It was beautiful light yellow wood, from a tree that grew in the yard where Big Dee and Stash had lived” (par. 55)
We can tell Mrs. Johnson cares for this churn and is sad to see it go. She speaks of it with affection and remembrance for her family. Even though Mrs. Johnson doesn’t want to part from the churn she does not tell Wangero that she cannot take it. She fails to speak up. This is Mrs. Johnson’s passive trait coming though and being tested. Wangero test her mother even further after dinner as she looks in trunks for handmade quilts. She comes out with two and asks “sweet as a bird” (Walker par.56) if she can have these quilts. Mrs. Johnson dose not want to give these quilts to Wangero. They mean something to her and Maggie that Wangero cannot understand. Mrs. Johnson explains the two quilts.
“They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was of the
Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mountain. In both of them were scrapes of dresses Grandma Dee had won fifty or more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jattell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.” (par.55). They obviously mean a lot to her. They are a part of her family. These are the most significant things she owns. And she has promised them to Maggie for when she is married. Throughout the story Maggie shows a love for the things that Wangero once rejected. Another stage we find in the hero’s journey is the identification of Allies (Hero’s par.5). Allies are certain people that help the hero our on their journey. Mrs. Johnson’s ally is her youngest daughter Maggie. Maggie is the reason for Mrs. Johnsons change. While Wangero doesn’t even remember who made the butter churn she must have it is Maggie that remember. They mean the most to Maggie in a family sense. We are now at the “Belly of the Whale” as Campbell describes as “the final separation from the hero’s known world and self” (par.11). Mrs. Johnson is now forced upon a choice. Dose she give the two quilts to Wangero or stand up and tell her no. Hearing Maggie in the other room drop plates as Wangero asks for the quilts comes to notice for Mrs. Johnson. But instead of giving Wangero a no she instead says, “why don’t you take one or two of the others” (par.58)? She is attempting to turn Wangero down in her usual timid fashion. Wangero pushes harder for the quilts and after a bit Mrs. Johnson reply’s with stronger no; “the truth is, I promised to give them quilts to Maggie, for when she marries John Thomas” (par.64). The doses not do at all for Wangero. She fights harder for the quilts. She is used to getting her way. No is not a word she hears often. In the story it seems as if Mrs Johnson is going to give in and give the quilts to Wangero. Maggie certainly thinks so. Maggie, thinking she has already lost, and so used to always losing, whispers, “she can have them Mama, I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (par.74). This hits Mrs. Johnson hard. She thinks through what she sees in Maggie and it breaks Mrs. Johnson’s heart. This is the moment she changes.
“When I looked at her like that something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of me feet…I did something I have never done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands and dumped them into Maggie’s lap” (par.76).
Mrs. Johnson changes because she needs to protect her daughter. She has now become a woman that can stand up and say no. She is not timid and passive anymore. It took her daughters feelings to strike something in her. That was the fork in her road and she took the one that made her stronger. She has become her daughters hero.

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