Alice Walker’s Characterization of Dee in the Short Story “Everyday Use”

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In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” strong characterization is abundant throughout the main characters. The story contains three main characters with Dee exhibiting the most diverse characterization. In her short “Everyday Use” Alice Walker characterizes Dee by what Dee does, what Dee says, and what others say about Dee.


Dee is characterized by what she does. First of all, when Dee arrives at the home where her mother and sister reside, she pulls out a Polaroid and begins taking pictures. As Dee snaps photographs left and right of her mother and sister, she makes sure to include the livestock as well as the entire house. Dee is able to prove how well educated she has become by degrading her own family with these pictures. Later, while Dee is inside, she goes around picking out items such as her mother’s butter churn, quilts, and other household luxuries she wants to take back with her. By taking these items, Dee, without any remorse, leaves her family without quilts to keep them warm and without a churn to make butter. Due to Dee’s actions the reader can characterize Dee as arrogant, greedy, and spiteful.


Dee is further characterized by what she says. When Dee first arrives home, her mother addresses her by her birth name, Dee. In reply Dee says, “No mama. Not ‘Dee,’ Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!” Whenever her mother asks why she changed her name, Dee states, “She’s dead. I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.” This statement proves that Dee is trying to isolate herself from her own family. Later, as Dee gets into the car to leave, she turns toward her mother and says, “You just don’t understand.” Her mother asks, “What don’t I understand?” In reply Dee states, “Your heritage. You ought to try to making something of yourself, too, Maggie. It’s really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live you’d never know it.” What Dee is really saying is that her family is just too stupid to understand. These words and statements characterize Dee as disrespectful and shameful.


Dee is also characterized by what others say about her. Dee’s mother recalls Dee’s reaction to the tragic night their shack burnt to the ground


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I see her standing off under the sweet gum tree she used to dig gum 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 wanted to ask her. She hated that house.


By her mother’s words the reader can sense that the burning of their little shack brought happiness to Dee. Years later while Dee is off at college, she writes a letter telling her mother that no matter where they choose to live; she will manage to come see them. But she will never bring any of her friends. As Dee’s mother and sister read the letter, Maggie, Dee’s sister, asks, “Mama, when did Dee ever have any friends?” Dee’s mother’s statement about Dee’s reaction when the house burned down and Maggie’s question about Dee ever having friends, characterizes Dee as egotistical.


In conclusion, Dee is characterized by what she does, what she says, and what other say about her in Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” By her actions, Dee exhibits an arrogant, greedy, and spiteful character. By what Dee says, she exhibits a disrespectful and shameful character. Finally, by the statements made about her from others, Dee exhibits an egotistical character. Overall, Dee’s character lacks good and positive qualities.





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