Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
An unreliable narrator is a narrator that only tells their side of the story, or one side of the story, that’s why they are an unreliable narrator. In “Everyday Use” our narrator is telling this story about her life and her children, she is speaking in a first person narrative, the story is told through Mama, an uneducated, rural Georgia, black woman, she is only person narrating the whole thing, she’s also the central character. She’s the protagonist, she is a very likeable, sympathetic person. She seems to care a lot about other people’s feelings and she’s been through some pretty hard times. She also talks in a friendly, conversational way. All of this means that we are only supposed to see things from her point of view.
As much as we might like our point of view we’ve always got to be a little wary when every view we get of the other characters is filtered through that one character’s perspective. The danger is that we’re only getting one character’s take on all the other characters and events in the story and we can’t always know right off the bat whether we can trust that character to tell us the real deal. For instance, as much as it seems like we’re getting a glimpse of Dee in the following passage, we’ve got to keep in mind that we’re just getting the narrator’s impressions of her. She observes: “Dee wanted nice things. A yellow organdy dress to wear to her graduation from high school […] She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts.” Mama admits from an early point that she never understood Dee and the she and her older daughter clashed from the time that she was a young girl.
Because Mama doesn’t understand Dee, she was hurt by Dee and Dee’s urgency to escape Georgia, escape the South and escape her family. When Dee comes back from school with a new Muslim boyfriend and a name change and suddenly claims that she understands her past and wants to preserve it, Mama was confused, hurt and angry. She lashed out towards Dee in the only way she knew how, by painting a negative picture of her to the reader and by denying her the quilt that she so desperately wants.
On the other had Mama thought that Maggie was the one that made it she knows how to live off of the land just as she does. Mama doesn’t really ever talk bad about Maggie; she gives her more sympathy than she gives Dee. Also Mama says that Dee makes Maggie nervous in the beginning of the story. I felt that she was blaming Dee for Maggie’s injuries. Mama describes Maggie as a partially educated child who does not look as appealing as her older sister. Maggie was burned in a house fire that left her scared all over her body. She does not wear revealing clothes, nor does she attract men as Dee does.
However, Maggie does not want to get in the way of her sister and when Dee wants the quilt, Maggie tells Mama just to let her have it. But Mama seems determined to put her foot down and finally stand up to Dee so she insists that Maggie take the quilt despite Dee’s protests that the quilt will then just be for “everyday use.”