Everyday Use by Alice Walker, 1973
The magic trick:
Beginning the story with the narrator’s daydream
The relationship between a first-person narrator and a reader is by its very nature an intimate one. A story begins and here is this person telling us about their life. In “Everyday Use,” the connection is even more personal than usual. Walker begins the story with her narrator telling the reader about a daydream. The narrator imagines meeting her daughter not in her shabby country home but instead on the Johnny Carson Show. She imagines herself as thin, fashionable and witty, before leveling with the reader that in reality she is none of these things. It’s heartbreakingly honest and immediately takes down any barrier between her narration and the reader. We feel as if we are not just reading her story; we are her confidants, we are on her side. And that’s quite a trick on Walker’s part.
Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought together on a TV program of this sort. Out of a dark and soft-seated limousine I am ushered into a bright room filled with many people. There I meet a smiling, gray, sporty man like Johnny Carson who shakes my hand and tells me what a fine girl I have. Then we are on the stage and Dee is embracing me with tears in her eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid, even though she has told me once that she thinks orchids are tacky flowers.