Analysis of "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker
this is an essay about the Alice Walker's short story, "Everyday Use". it tells us how one's culture and heritage should be use daily so as not to forget our traditions. it should be use everyday to keep it alive and active.
In “Everyday Use”, Alice walker tells the story of a mother and her two daughters’ conflicting ideas about their identities and ancestry. She personifies the different sides of culture and heritage in the characters of Dee, Maggie and the Mother, each with its different qualities and philosophies in life. Mama is a simple, country woman that valued culture and heritage for its usefulness as well as its personal significance by living and doing simple things in life. She shows disdain for Dee’s materialistic connection to her heritage. Maggie is the shy, passive sister that is similar to mama in her simple way of life but remembers the meaning of her heritage. Dee represents a materialistic and modern way of life where culture and heritage are to be valued only for their artistic appeal.
Although the three women are one family, their perspectives in life are very diverse. Mother is proud of who she is and is happy with the life she has been given, although, she has not accomplished materialistically. On the other hand, Dee has a different outlook. She sees herself as in control of her life and believes she has the ability to do anything she wants with it. Her mother tells of how “Dee wanted nice things” (Walker 2) and how she pretty much get what she wants. This attitude shows in the story when she insists on taking the churn top and the dasher and then the old quilts which her mother promised to give to Maggie. In comparison to Dee, Maggie has accepted life as it is and continues to live in an un-educated world where happiness is formed in the heart, not with possessions.
As much as their outlooks are different so are their views of heritage. Maggie and her mother believe that the word heritage deals with their family’s tradition. Mama sees heritage in the practical things and as a string of memories. When she gives the quilts to Maggie, she hopes that Maggie will put it to everyday use. When Dee admires the benches, Mama reminisces that the benches were made by Dee’s daddy, “when they couldn’t afford to buy chairs” (Walker 5).To mama, the fondness of history in this memory is her affection for her husband. Maggie cherishes memories and traditions. When they are discussing the churn, she explains, “Aunt Dee’s husband whittled the dash”, and that, “his name was Henry, but they called him Stash” (Walker 6). It is very likely that she learns this information from her mom and stores it in her memory as part of her idea of history. She values the quilts for what they mean to her as an individual. When she says, “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 7). It implies that her connection with the quilts is personal and emotional. It means a lot to her because of the people they represent and not merely because of the concept that they were stitched by hand. In contrast, Dee believes that traditions are about African culture and wants nothing to do with her family’s heritage until it is in style.
Dee is ashamed of her family’s heritage and what they represent. After she moved to the city and become an educated and sophisticated, young woman, she wrote to her mom that she would always visit, “but will never bring her friends” (Walker 3). She doesn’t want her friends to know the real conditions of living that her family have and the backward way of life they live. She grasps the African tradition and culture, yet, fails to acknowledge her own African American culture. Dee is misconstruing her heritage as material goods as opposed to her ancestor’s habits and way of life. When she informs her mother and Maggie that she has changed her name, she states, “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (Walker 4). Dee does not want to be associated with her family’s culture and by changing her name, it gives her a sense of freedom. Although it’s an African name, it is not directly related to her heritage and has not been passed down through generations nor does it symbolize anything to her family.
Going to college has totally changed Dee’s mind. She’s been exposed to the new life and new ideas. She is unaware of traditional craft like making quilts but is aware that old quilts as artifacts of culture are invaluable and priceless. To her, heritage is found on appearances. She wants the churn top “as a centerpiece for the alcove table” (Walker 6). She does not make the personal connection to history that her mother and sister does. She admires the benches because of the texture, not because her father made them. As with the case of the quilts, while her mother thinks they should be useful and not decorative, Dee believes that they should not go to use and should be displayed. She wants her family to step into the future and be a part of the world as it is. As she leaves home, 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 8). Mom and Maggie don’t want to be changed by the outside culture that Dee embraces. They are confused and intimidated by her new image as “Wangero”. Their own connections to their heritage rest on their memories of their mothers and grandmothers. They prefer to remember them for who they were as individuals. To them, their family heritage is everything around them that is involved in their everyday lives and everything that was involved in the lives of their ancestors. To Dee, heritage is the past, something to frame or hang on the wall, a mere artistic reminder of her family history.
Typically, this story centers on the Mother’s rousing realization to Dee’s superficiality and to Maggie’s profound understanding of heritage. She begins to see Maggie in a different light and learns to appreciate her simplicity and goodness as compared to Dee’s sophistication and ambitions. Walker tells us that a person’s heritage should be a living dynamic part of the culture from which it arose and not a frozen timepiece only to be observed from a distance. It should not be looked upon as history but as a living existence of the past. Culture must be put into everyday use situation to keep it alive and active.