Literature Review On A Notion Of Heritage In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

A short story “Everyday Use” was written by an outstanding American poetess, writer, political activist and a feminist Alice Walker. The writer pays close attention to the problem of deracination and national identity of people. The short story under consideration is dedicated to the idea of national heritage, its meaning, and a changing idea about its value.
It has to be noted that nowadays, in the era of multiculturalism, people do not pay such a close attention to their cultural identity and do not try to make other people accept it, because they are respectful of one’s uniqueness, race, nationality, religion and other aspects that make people different from each other. However, the situation was absolutely different several decades ago, when some people thought they could be superior to others.
The short story in question is set in 1960 – 1970s, at the period when the black people “fought for their national identity”, freedom, and rights (White). The critics think that the story is set somewhere in the Southern states of the USA, where the history of the Africans in the USA starts (White).
“Everyday Use” is a short story about the national identity and the value of one’s history, whatever hard or unattractive it may seem. The idea presented by the writer is that everyone has to understand the power of their kin and a strong connection to them.
The whole story belongs to the belles-lettres style, the sub-style of emotive prose. The genre of the literary work is a short story, which presents profound realistic themes that are so close to the modern world and society.
The emotive-connotative key of this literary masterpiece is ironical. The irony is presented in the idea that the main characters sometimes act in a paradoxical and a contradictory way. For example, one of the main characters, Dee, claims to respect her heritage and memory about her relatives and, at the same time, she changes her name from Dee to Wangro, feeling ashamed of the slavery past. The reader definitely notices some ironical passages in the text, which makes them pay a closer attention to the plot and analyze the story in a more careful way.
The tone of the narration is sympathetic and, sometimes, even mocking. The language in the short story is close to life and shows sincere emotions and feelings. The language tells a lot about the characters’ origin and background. For example, it is obvious that Mama is an uneducated, hard-working woman, who has devoted all her life to the daughters and a hard work. The woman likes her life, because she does not know a different one, and it is hard for her to accept something new. When she meets Dee in the end of the short story, she is very surprised at the daughter’s large sunglasses and a Polaroid. She finds it strange and unusual that the girl from a rural area can and wants to change so much. What is more, it is weird for her to hear a strange name of Dee’s beloved and she can hardly pronounce it. After several unsuccessful attempts made by Mama to pronounce Asalamalakim’s name, he finally tells her to “call him Hakim.a.barber” (Walker). Such funny passages make the short story close to life, making the reader believe that it is a true story about real people.
“Everyday Use” is the first story narrative, done by a participant narrator. It is hard to judge whether the facts presented in the text are reliable or not, because the whole story is told by the mother, who may have different feelings to her children or experience different emotions regarding this or that situation. For example, at the beginning of the story, the mother founds Dee a very attractive child, who always knows what she wants and who will definitely be successful. What about Maggie, it seems that the mother is just taking pity of her, because the girl is wounded and has scars all over her arms and legs. The mother knows that she feels uneasy about her appearance and feels very lonely and miserable. In the end of the story, Mama changes her mind, because she understands, who really values their heritage and who respects the members of the family and their traditions.
The main characters of the short story are real people, who can have their advantages and little foibles. That is why, my idea is that it is unfair to decide, who are the antagonists and who are the protagonists in the story. All of them have their own set of ideas and have their own understanding of what is valuable.
What makes the story special and what uncovers the main ideas presented by the writer is a rich metaphorical language and rhetorical techniques. The whole text is based on comparison and contrast. From the very beginning, the reader may notice that the narrator, Mama, compares her daughters – not only their appearance, but also their characters and inner essence. Two daughters, Maggie and Dee, are like chalk and cheese. Dee looks like a real lady: she has attractive body, fantastic hair, which she is proud of, she likes beautiful dresses; the girl has a desire to learn something new, and she strives for knowledge. What is more, Dee has a strong character and will not let anyone offend her. Maggie is not so beautiful and attractive as her sister. Being a child, she got serious burns, and now there are scars all over her body. Such a distinctive feature makes her feel detached from other people. What is more, the writer uses simile for several time, comparing a girl with an animal, e.g. “Have you ever seen a lame animal?.. That is the way my Maggie walks”, “Maggie’s hand is as limp as a fish” (Walker). Maybe, such a connection shows that the girl is far from the society, and very close to nature and the kin. Maggie is vulnerable and shy, she is afraid of being among people, that is why she spends most of time with her mother. It has to be noted that Maggie and Mama look very similar, as they both have an understanding of the value of their past and feel a connection to it. Dee, on the contrary, feels ashamed of her poor house and some items of the cultural identity. For example, the girl finds the quilt outdated, when the mother offers her to take it with her when Dee goes for studies.
The main symbol of the short story is the quilt. It is not only because it is a heritage of the African culture, but because it is made of many small pieces of cloth, which symbolize every member of the family and a connection to them. Literary saying, without one piece, it is impossible to sew a quilt, because it is made of clothes of every member of the family, who are not alive anymore, but who are still in memory of their offspring . When Dee comes to her mother’s home and wants to take the “heritage”, like dasher, churn, quilt, and some other memorable things, she takes them as the vintage things, which can prove her identity and which she can be proud of. However, it is only Mama and Maggie, who remember people that made these objects. “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash,” said Maggie so low you almost couldn’t hear her” (Walker). In addition to that, Dee proves that she does not really value her past, because she decides to change her name, as it shows that she is has been “named after the people, who oppressed her” (Walker). Dee does not want to accept the idea that it is also a part of her history and that it has to be accepted.
My idea is that it is not right to decide, who of the sisters has this “right”, because each of them has their own understanding of what to value. Maggie has the heritage, which is not materialistic. She can sew, like her grandmother and great grandmother could, the girl remembers the members of her family “without the quilts” (Walker). What about Dee, she may be just afraid of forgetting that people and memorable moments, that is why she tries to preserve it in materialistic objects. I believe that the idea of a changing world outlook is also presented in the short story, because, people, who were the witnesses of the past events, pass away gradually, and the youth start forming their own understanding about their family. In my view, Dee is a representative of a new generation, who are known as the Afro-Americans now and who have the features of both cultures.

Works Cited

Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.
White, David. “Everyday Use: Defining African-American Heritage.” Purdue North Central Literary Journal, 2001. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.


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