Everyday Use by Alice Walker Research Paper
Walker shows us what inheritance is through her short story, Everyday Use. The two hand-stitched quilts draw attention and become the center of conflict in the family of Mama and her two daughters. Walker also uses these quilts as symbolism for heritage. The author shows that different views, events, and situations shape one’s life in different ways as an individual responds to them. In the short story, we see the conflict within the family of Mama and her two daughters (SuperSummary 1-5).
Walker narrates the story of a conflict in relation to identities and heritage. The author presents the conflict through Maggie, Dee, and the Mother. All these characters show variations in beliefs due different experiences and ideologies in life. Mama lives a simple life based on her cultural heritage.
This is a fulfilling life to Mama because she believes in simplicity of life. As a result, Mama scorns Dee’s materialistic tendencies when relating to her culture. On the other hand, Maggie is shy and submissive almost like Mama in simplicity, but she still remembers her heritage. Dee shows a modern way of life that is out of touch with her culture and heritage. Dee’s characters and actions show that one can only value her culture for its artistic appeal.
Mama is happy and proud about her simple life. Dee has materialistic tendencies in which she only craves for “nice things” (Walker 384) in her life. Moreover, Dee believes that she can control her life and do anything she wants to do with it.
She demonstrates this trait by insisting on having the churn top and the dasher together with the quilts. However, Mama had promised to give these items to Maggie. On the contrary, Maggie has come into terms with her life. She believes that happiness comes from the heart and not from material possessions.
These characters also have diverse views about culture and heritage. Mama and Maggie consider a strong family tradition as their source of heritage. Mama believes that heritage is memories of the tradition and its practical aspects.
She believes that Maggie shall use quilts every day. Still, Mama also has fond memories of the benches when Dee admires them, she notes that Dee’s daddy made the benches “when they couldn’t afford to buy chairs” (Walker 385). Mama has a special affection to history because it brings sweet memory of her husband. On the same note, Maggie also likes tradition and its memories.
She can remember how Henry or Stash carved the dasher (Walker 386). Maggie could have learned such history from her Mama and kept it in her memory as a part of history and tradition. Maggie sees a great meaning in the quilts. She considers the quilts as sources of memory and tradition. For instance, she says, “I cannot remember Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 386).
This shows that Maggie’s relation with the two quilts is expressive and special in her memory, traditions, and history. These quilts represent tradition and history to Maggie, not because they are hand stitched, but rather because of the history and heritage, they have in the family. On the other hand, Dee sees her tradition as African culture. In fact, Dee rejects her family heritage because it does not conform to African traditions.
According to Dee, her family tradition does not reflect her beliefs. For instance, after she receives education from the city and becomes stylish, Dee writes to Mama and informs her that she would visit home, “but will never bring her friends” (Walker 383). Dee does not want her friends to learn about her background, history, and tradition. Dee considers it as backward and unsophisticated life. Dee strives to embrace the root culture of Africans, but she refuses to accept her own heritage.
Dee sees her heritage in terms of materialistic qualities, rather than as history and heritage of her family. For instance, Dee informs her family that she changed her name to ‘Wangero’ and states that, “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (Walker 385). According to her, the name has been “a form of oppression” (Walker 386), and changing it gives her a sense of self-determination.
One can realize that Dee’s new name is an African name, but has nothing in relation to her history, family, and traditions. Education has changed Dee’s attitude toward her family and heritage. She prefers new life and sophistication of the city. Dee is not aware of the art of making quilts, but she knows that such “old quilts in her family are priceless and invaluable” (Walker 386). The major concern for Dee is the appearance of the quilts and not their cultural representations.
According to Dee, the churn top is only suitable as “a centerpiece for the alcove table” (Walker 386). On the contrary, her mother and Maggie consider the churn top as an item of connection to their heritage. One can also notice that Dee “admires the benches because of their textures” (Walker 386), but she fails to notice whoever made them. Dee and Mama have different views about the quilts. Her mother believes that the quilts should be on everyday use as a way of keeping the past alive.
Conversely, Dee believes that the quilts should only serve decorative purposes. Dee wants her mother and Maggie to embrace the new life of sophistication. For instance, she tells Maggie that, “It’s really a new day for us, but from the way you and mama still live, you’d never know it” (Walker 388). However, Mama and Maggie have not embraced the new culture of Dee. Further, Mama and Maggie show confusion about the new state of Dee’s life.
They do not see any connection to the new name of Dee, ‘Wangero’ because Mama and Maggie can only find such memories in their heritage and history. They have such memories because of the role that heritage has played in their lives. Mama and Maggie believe that the family heritage is important in their daily lives. However, Dee believes that heritage is history that does not have any significant role in her present life, and any memory should only be of artistic value.
Dee has totally failed to recognize any value in her family heritage. Consequently, she finds a heritage that matches her education and sophistication. Dee believes that her new name, Wangero represents her heritage and cultural beliefs. Dee thinks that the name represents her African values.
However, one can observe that Dee has failed in this endeavor because the name and her African attires have no meaning because they are false and artificial. Besides, Dee does not understand her new culture. Dee constructs a culture that is beyond her history and reach.
Education has only served the role of alienating Dee from her family, true identity, and heritage. With haughty ideals from the city life and education, Dee lost her heritage and identity, which can only come from the family. Dee’s new life and a sense of identity scare Mama and Maggie because their simple lives cannot match the new identity of Dee.
Visibility, rights, and equal opportunities are the new ideals of Dee. While these ideals are not problematic, what is bothersome is that Dee has lost respect for her heritage and alienated herself from the family. Maggie is a contrast of Dee. She does not know of any other heritage apart from the family heritage. She lacks education that Dee has.
However, Maggie has accepted her situation and found her self-fulfillment. Walker manages to use contrast in order to reveal effects of lacking and having education between the two sisters. Dee’s insatiable search for education has led her to reject her heritage and simple life of Mama and Maggie. On the other hand, Maggie’s lack of education has stifled her, and made her to accept everything without questions. Walker shows that either having or lacking education can be detrimental in a family.
Walker has also written other short stories. For instance, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down is a collection of fourteen short stories that show the plight and triumph of African American women (Walker 3-138). Just like in Everyday Use, Walker tells her stories from perspectives of women.
Characters narrate their experiences of trauma and success. While such stories are common and may not be unique, it is the African woman’s viewpoint that makes the work outstanding. These ideas vary from pornography, gender issues to inequality among others. Some of these experiences may force women to superficiality.
For instance, Dee lives in a world of superficiality while Maggie maintains a deep understanding of her culture. As Mama realizes the simplicity of Maggie, she begins to appreciate it (Walker 389). Conversely, the new life of Dee has only led to confusion in the family.
Walker aims to assert that people should appreciate their heritage and culture. In addition, people should not look at heritage and culture as the ‘dead past’ that can only serve ornamental purposes. Instead, people should see their heritage as a living past. We should ensure that we put heritage in everyday use to sustain it.
Walker wrote Everyday Use in the 1970s when African Americans were struggling to find and control their identities. As a result, some of them could not match the social, cultural, and political aspects that developed. This led to confusion among African American women. Walker also notes contributions of African Americans through their arts. Such artworks connected their generations to the past. In fact, artworks survived through generations and served as important pieces of heritage.
Dee reflects the struggle among African Americans who wanted to establish their own identity through their original roots, Africa. However, such people often failed because their roots remained vague to them. The bleak history inspired people to trace their ancestry in order to grasp and reconnect with their roots. Overall, Walker’s short story shows African Americans who did not understand the concept of the black consciousness or its ideals.
Alice Walker is an “American author, feminist, poet, and activist born in 1944” (Walker 1). She has written several short stories and poems. In fact, Walker listened to black stories from her father, which influenced her late works. Events of her childhood and political, social, and historical development in the US also feature in all her works. She narrates these stories manly from African American women perspectives.
SuperSummary. “Plot Summary of Everyday Use by Alice Walker.” 2012. Web. <http://www.supersummary.com/>.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Making Literature Matter: An Anthology For Readers and Writers. 2nd ed. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 382-389. Print.
—. You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. San Diego: Mariner Books, 1982. Print.
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