Short Story of the Month: Everyday Use by Alice Walker

Welcome to the third Short Story of the Month!

The winters may be now saying their slow goodbye as they leave; leaving the air slightly chilly.

That kind of rosy, crisp coolness is what still makes you want to cosy up in a blanket or have a cuppa as you snuggle in your quilt.

Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use, would make for a beautiful read in this weather.

Yes, it is about quilts but that’s not that only thing that makes your heart feel warm. 

What is the story about?

The story is about two sisters, Maggie and Dee, who are very different from each other in their thoughts and physique. Nonetheless, they both value their family heirlooms and heritage. However, they value the same things for entirely different reasons. Dee comes to visit her mother and sister, Maggie, with her husband. It is then that she asks to take certain things such as the dasher and the churn top. She even asks for the quilts that were stitched by hand out of old scraps of her grandmother’s dresses. 

Dee’s mother however refuses to give her the quilts saying that she has promised them to Maggie.

Analysis

The story takes a human look at the idea of heritage. While both the sisters covet their family heirlooms, they do so for entirely opposite reasons. Dee desires to have these things only to use them in her house as display pieces. She wants to do the same with the quilts. She wants to use them as wall hangings. Dee sees appreciates her heritage only for its face value. She thinks “they’re priceless,” and hence should be treated with care. She wants them only to be kept in display as if in a museum. She is condescending to Maggie’s way of thinking about these quilts, of using them on an everyday basis. 

However, her mother sides with Maggie because she too would want the quilts to be used rather then kept aside. She values it for the use they provide to them. Thus, there is a sense of superficiality in Dee’s way of thinking about heritage as a mere curiosity or that you are only appreciating your heritage by preserving it and not engaging with it. 

The story is an assertion of the idea of a living heritage. We see it in our everyday lives as well. Heritage and family stories do not have to be a relic of the past but can be woven in the fabric of our lives too! 

Where to read it? 

This story is easily available online. You can read it here or here. The former is provides more information and context before the story. The latter is only the text of the story in PDF form. 


This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!

 

Short Story of the Month: The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko

Welcome to the second Short Story of the Month!

It is a brand new year! 2020! Love the sound of it and it makes me think that something wonderful is going to happen to one and all this lovely year.

Since it is new year, the short story The Book Cafe is going to be reading is related to both Christmas and New Year. The short story is titled The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko.

What is the short story about?

In The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko, the protagonist, Minka, is recalling his first memory of the Christmas Tree or the New Year Tree (yolka) as it is known in the story. The story is set in the Soviet Union where it was forbidden to celebrate Christmas and hence this name was adopted. Minka speaks of a specific incident which had a long lasting impact on his behaviour.

He was five. He clearly remembers the New Year Tree and how it was then filled with presents and candies that Minka and his sister, Lyolya, were competing over. The presents and candies were meant to be given to other needy children as a gesture of kindness but childish quarreling of the siblings, children and the mothers led to the guests leaving until the father put an end to such ungracious behavior from his kids and decided to give the presents to the needy children as had been agreed upon before.

Analysis:

Since the story centres on a childhood memory, the tone has a touch of naivete and innocence while at the same time showing covetous behaviour among children. The sense of playfulness is clear in bickering over eating Christmas sweets between Minka and Lyolya. The story has a definite moral lesson about the benefits of being kind and sharing with others. Michka at the end states that it was because of that day 35 years ago that made him more considerate and selfless. He also attributes his happiness and good health to those characteristics as well. That lesson in itself is an important manifestation of the Christmas spirit and the joy of giving.

Where to read it?

The story is translated from Russian by Ross Ufberg and is part of the anthology, A Very Russian Christmas: The Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time.

You can read the short story here. Read and enjoy! I promise it will not take more than 15 minutes to read and in that 15 minutes you can relive the warmth and joyousness associated with Christmas and New Year.

 

Let us know in the comments below what you thought about the short story!

Happy Reading!


This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!

Short Story of the Month: Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

Welcome to the first Short Story of the Month!

This month we will look at the short story, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid!

What is the short story about?

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid is so many things rolled in one, actually two pages. In essence, it is a bunch of instructions unloaded by a mother onto her daughter. The story begins with instructions on how to wash white clothes. They then talk about how the mother is teaching her skills such as sewing a button or growing okra. The instructions also cover a set of behaviours that a girl would be expected to follow such as how to eat and walk like a lady or even how to smile. We hear the daughter’s voice only twice. Once she is meekly contradicting her mothers assumption that she sings benna on Sunday and the second time, at the end, when she is posing a question to her mother.

Analysis:

Girl takes a good hard look at a mother and daughter relationship. There are a several specific references to Antiguan culture and as with Kincaid’s other work, critics have pointed out the autobiographical elements in this story too, yet the story does resonate with the idea of how mothers impose on their daughters the patriarchal expectations of society. Daughters thus grow up to be passive and unquestioning just as patriarchy would like them too!

It is also an indictment of mothers who perpetuate this cycle (in the story we do see how the mother carries assumptions that her daughter will surely become a slut). Yet at the same time, it also goes to show how the society traps mothers in this role of brainwashing their own daughters and by extension playing a major part in their dis-empowerment. Mothers know what society holds for their daughters when they grow up and they believe that the easiest way to fit in and be accepted into society is to follow their discriminatory norms. Thus, though the mother comes across as an overbearing figure in this story, one can also interpret the mother herself as a victim trapped in the vicious cycle of gender expectations. She does not know any other world and so passes on her own knowledge of how to be a woman to her own daughter.

Where to read it?

Find the short story here or here. Read and enjoy! I promise it will not take more than 15 minutes to read and process this short story.

Let us know in the comments below what you thought about the short story!

Happy Reading!


This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!

Short Story of the Month

Let’s face it, we have huge TBR piles and we are never able to resist buying more books!

“What! It is a sale, how can I miss it?”

“I can always make room for more books.”

“There is always space for books!”

“I can donate my older books!”

These are just some of the excuses we often make and justify our not putting a stop to buying books!

And let’s face the reality and admit that reading and buying books are completely different hobbies!

So one possible solution to reduce our constant buying of books is to READ ONLINE!

The best thing to read online are short stories.

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Let’s not add more to our TBR piles!

I personally do not prefer reading novels online (unless I absolutely must!) as I spend way too much time on the computer (or rather this godforsaken addictive smartphone) anyway! Reading my old fashioned paperback is one way I can detach from technology!

Short stories however are fun and short to read and give less strain to the eyes!

So we at The Book Cafe have decided to introduce you to a short story available online. It will be posted on the first of every month so that you get a whole month to read the short story!

The logic behind Short Story of the Month is three fold:

  1. To introduce you to newer writers.
  2. To make sure people do not think any less about short stories
  3. To help you read, even without shelling out tons of money and then stacking on your long TBR piles!

What say? Is it a deal?

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So come join us to read one short story per month online!

 

Stay tuned tomorrow for the short story reveal!


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