Culture and heritage are essential factors that make each people distinct and different from others. It gives humans a sense of unity and belonging. In “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker stresses the importance of preserving heritage and provides the readers with a profound understanding of a true, underlying value of heritage and tradition. “Everyday Use” reveals an intriguing story of a strong, man-like Mama and her two distinct daughters, Dee and Maggie. By contrasting the two daughters in the story, Walker illustrates their conflicting views of heritage within a family. This conflict resolves in the narrator, Mama’s epiphanic moment of recognition through the rejection of her older daughter’s superficial value of heritage in favor of the true, practical value presented by her younger daughter.
The story begins with the narrator, Mama, who describes herself as “a large, big-boned women with rough, man-working hands” (70). Proud of carrying the burdens of her two daughters, she is capable of “knocking down a bull calf straight in the brain” (70). In fact, Mama grows up in a world of discrimination as she mentions, “After second grade the school was close down . . . in 1927 colored asked fewer questions than they do now” (71). Despite her lack of education, Mama takes pride of who she is and what she does. In her mind, she seems to understand the significance of heritage and the importance of cultural traditions. As the conflicts arise between two daughters have escalated to a point of climax in the story, she eventually comes to a realization that the real definition of heritage lies within the appreciation and everyday use of it.
Dee represents a misconception of heritage as she perceives it as a decorative and artistic reminder of the family’s history and origin. In the beginning of the story, Dee is portrayed as a beautiful, well-educated woman. She is very confident and self-centered, where “hesitation was no part of her nature” (70). For Dee, she seems ignorant about her past and the place where she had grown up. Standing still under the “sweet gum tree” when the house is burned to the ground makes Mama questioned the possibility of her own daughter’s hatred towards her family and house: “Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes?” (71). Clearly, Dee does not appreciate her family’s lifestyle and cultural traditions. She is, in fact, ashamed and embarrassed of her family’s poor economic conditions and the current “no-real-window” house they live in: “[S]he will never bring her friends” (72). Her action demonstrates a disconnection with her origins. In addition, she insists to change her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemarnjo, announcing that “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (73). For Dee, she perceives the name as merely as a meaningless word instead of a symbol that exemplifies the family tradition and heritage.
Most importantly, Dee’s superficial idea of heritage can be further sharpened by interpreting her attitudes toward the homemade furniture and quilts. Upon Dee’s arrival, she is soon amazed and delighted in the decoration of the dining room, especially the butter dish and dasher. Instead of using them every day, she wishes to acquire them as decorative purpose and “use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table” (74). Similarly, Dee desperately wants to take the hand-stitched quilts home, to display them, and to hang them as “if that was the only thing you could do with the quilts” (76). Undoubtedly, Dee’s defines heritages not only as something to put on display, but also as objects used to show-off her origin.
The young daughter, Maggie, on the other hand, is perceived as a character that appreciates and understands the practical value of heritage. Interestingly, she is first described by Mama as an insecure and anti-social girl. While suffering from the burning scars resulted from the house fire, she develops a strong sense of diffidence. As a result, she often hides her body behind the doors or her mother, especially with the presence of Dee or stranger. Mama once describes her posture as “a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car” (70). Unlike Dee’s complete ignorance about the past, Maggie is deeply affected by the tragic incident of losing the house. Ever since the fire, she has been like “chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle” (71). Moreover, Maggie does not receive any formal education compared to her well-educated sister. Despite the fact that she is not bright and educated, she seems to acknowledge the significance of heritage and at the same time appreciates her family values. She will “marry John Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest face)” (71). In here, she chooses to live a quiet, simply life and inherits the life style and values of her parents.
In contrast to Dee’s superficial notion of hand-stitched quilts, Maggie interprets them in a deeper level. For Maggie, the quilts represent the history of the pass generation and the true inheritance of family. Unlike Dee who insists that “Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be in rags,” she knows the real and practice value of the quilts (75). They serve a simple and definite purpose: to wear them and to use them every day. In addition, Maggie knows “how to quilt” from her grandmother (75). Despite Mama’s promise of giving the quilts to Maggie, she offers the quilts to Dee: “She can have them, Mama . . . I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (76). Instead of valuing heritage simply as an artistic decorations, Maggie successfully embrace the true value behinds the quilt. It is the culture and heritage embedded in the quilts are what is important.
Ultimately, Mama’s epiphanic moment of realizing a true value of heritage is revealed. By snatching the quilts out of Dee’s hands and giving them to Maggie, she eventually acknowledges the true concept and value of culture and heritage: they are deeply rooted in everyday use. In today’s society, people utilize such concept of heritage to better understand their culture values and identity. Others misinterpret the value of heritage and find ways to exploiting it in order to satisfy their superficial needs. In “Everyday Use”, Alice teaches the readers a lesson on true inheritance. The right perception of heritage is not depending on a person’s appearance and education. Instead, it relies on the how each person interprets and incorporates it into daily lives.
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