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Analyzing Conflict in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”

 

            The protagonist and narrator, mama, in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” is a Guardian Provider.  What makes the narrator a Guardian is her sense of “belonging,” typical of Keirsey’s Guardian temperament type (110).  But what makes mama a Guardian Provider is her ability to “provide a sound and safe home, good food, nice clothes, and a store of possessions” (Keirsey 112).  This may be clearly seen in the story when, even after the family’s home burns down, “just like the one that burned,” and she is able to snap back, rebuilding their lives and accumulating the necessities of life, including even the family heirlooms such as the quilts (Walker 759).

            When Wangero and her significant other, Hakim-a-barber, pull up to the protagonist’s home, mama takes the fleeing Maggie firmly by the hand and meets them outside (759).  Mama is clearly a gracious “hostess, able to remember people’s names” as Guardian Providers will, and works diligently at attempting to memorize their African names: “I’ll get used to it . . . Ream it out again” (Keirsey 110, Walker 761).  Once having gotten their names, mama is seen continuing the role of able hostess, “wanting to insure that all are involved and provided for” (Keirsay 111).  Mama serves her guests a traditional meal of “collards and pork,” although Hakim rejects it as “unclean” and not to his taste (Walker 761).  Even though it is her first meeting with Hakim, mama seems at ease with the man, able to “strike up a conversation and chat pleasantly” as a Guardian Provider is wont do (Keirsey 111). 

            Additionally, mama is not concerned with “a lot of knowledge” that she “didn’t necessarily need to know” (758).  This is typical of Guardians who “tend to use a rather conventional vocabulary and phrasing,” preferring “more solid and sensible topics” (Keirsey 79, 78).  In fact, Walker provides us a poignant example of this type of practical thinking when Wangero (formerly Dee) and Hakim-a-barber “talk a blue streak” while mama is wondering “whether Wangero [Dee] had really gone and married him” (761). 

            We know, too, that mama is given to “gossip,” a trait of Guardian Providers (Keirsey 111).  Responding to Wangero’s letter preceding her arrival, mama and Maggie “thought about this” and discussed whether Dee ever had any friends (Walker 759).  Obviously, mama discussed her daughter’s affairs with others; as the narrator, we are outsiders invited into the family’s life through the use of first person narrative.  By design, we are invited into the narrator’s personal life and the lives of those close to her.

            In addition, mama’s Provider temperament allows her to “drift to nostalgic recounting of past experiences,” seeing the utility of both the family’s hand-sewn and machine-sewn quilts as when mama offers Wangero “take one or two of the others” (Keirsey 111, Walker 762).  The fact that Wangero had once rejected these same quilts as “old fashioned, out of style” is not lost on mama, and the latter’s reaction is to preserve first the continuity of her family, of which her Artisan daughter, Wangero, has essentially rejected (762). 

            Yet, when protecting their core values, Providers are “highly sensitive and are not at all reluctant to express their emotional reactions (Keirsey 111).  No where is this seen better in Walker’s story than in the protagonist’s response to Wangero’s “temper” and look of “hatred” during the wrangle over the quilts (762).  When seemingly ready to give in to Wangero’s assertive, almost aggressive, insistence upon taking the family heirlooms, mama is moved by Maggie’s passive resignation, her “dopey, hangdog look,” as she says, “She can have them, Mama . . . I can ‘member  Grandma Dee without the quilts” (762).  Mama, feeling moved by the “spirit of God,” then “snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangeros hands and dumped them into Maggie’s lap” (763).  Typical of Guardian Providers, mama’s lack of interest in Wangero’s new fad may be due to the “abstract” nature of the latter’s request (Keirsey 111); Wangero doesn’t wish to put the quilts to “everyday use,” as Maggie will, but simply display the items in some less useful, more abstract, fashion (762). 

            Although the outcome could have easily led to mama sacrificing her core values or even an inconclusive confrontation, Walker resolves the story by allowing the narrator to assert her Guardian Provider values, standing up for herself and Maggie.  Wangero, defeated, “turned without a word” and departs, tossing one last condescending comment to mama and Maggie (763).  In the end, we find Maggie smiling, as both women “sat there just enjoying” the remainder of the day (763).

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