Alice Walker Everyday Use - Essay Example

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Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use, centers round a mother and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie, who are contrasts in appearance, personality and attitude. The narrative is a telling commentary on what constitutes genuine heritage. Walker uses the different attitudes of…
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Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use, centers round a mother and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie, who are contrasts in appearance, personality and attitude. The narrative is a telling commentary on what constitutes genuine heritage. Walker uses the different attitudes of Dee and Maggie to show that heritage is truly cherished when it is a part of everyday life and not just exhibited as an external decoration.
Judging by external appearances, it is Dee who seems to be proudly conscious of her heritage. Her dress and her hair, with its’ deliberately emphasized African style, are defiant statements of identity, as is her change of name. However, a deeper reading makes it clear that becoming “Wangero Leewanika Kimanjo” is actually a rejection of her roots. The name ‘Dee,’ which has passed down to her through the generations of her family, is more a part of her true heritage than the alien African name she has adopted (Hoel, Para. 17). “She’s dead,” she says of the old Dee (Walker, Para. 27). Dee “had hated the house” of her childhood (Walker, Para 10). Dee takes pictures of her mother and sister as if they were curiosities and includes the house and a cow, but not herself. She does not see herself as a part of their world. She takes the churner top and dasher, not as treasured parts of her past life, but as “mere things or aestheticized objects” (Whitsitt, 8), to be flaunted as artistic curios. Similarly, her desire for the quilts has “nothing to do with traditions, only with fashion” (Hoel, Para. 16). She desires them as fashion statements and as hand-stitched antiques of considerable monetary value. Dee’s rejection of her family and her contempt for their way of life is a definite denial of her heritage.
The modest, stay-at-home Maggie, when compared with the attractive, successful Dee, is not impressive. However, it is Maggie who, like her mother, has “an inherent understanding of heritage based on her love and respect for those who came before her” (White, Para. 3). To Maggie, the articles of their household are not inanimate objects of idealized art, or curios, but are valued as treasured links “which represent history and tradition, binding women and men to the past and the past to the present” (Whitsitt, 2). Maggie knows that “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash” (Walker, Para.52). Although she shares Dee’s estimate of the quilts, “But they’re priceless” (Walker, Para. 68), their value to her is based on her love of the people who made them. They are a living legacy of her heritage, passed down to her from her grandmother and aunt. Her mother’s simple assertion, “Maggie knows to quilt” (Walker, Para. 69), is a testimonial to the fact that it is Maggie who is the guardian of their heritage, which will continue to live as intimate objects of “Everyday Use” in her life, and not as detached objects of art, hanging out of reach on cold walls.
Dee and Maggie’s contrasting attitudes towards life exposes the artificiality of Dee flaunting her identity as a black woman: She wears it as a badge of defiance rather than as a comfortable, treasured part of her personality. Dee’s accusation, “You just don’t understand --- your heritage,” (Walker, Para.79-81), is actually applicable to herself. Maggie is the bearer of cherished memories and traditions, in which heritage truly lives. (Mohr, 2). The two sisters’ markedly different view on what constitutes the essence of an objects’ value is skillfully used by Walker to define the true meaning of heritage: “A real heritage --- is composed of real people: people who are deserving of respect and admiration” (White, last line). It is “Everyday Use” which will nurture that heritage so that it can be preserved and passed on to posterity.
Works Cited.
Hoel, Helga. 3 October, 1997. Personal Names and Heritage: Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday
Use.’ 29 March 2007.
< > Mohr, Nicole. 5 May, 2006. The Women in Alice Walker’s Short Story ‘Everyday Use.’
AssociatedContent Web site. 29 March 2007.
story.html > Walker, Alice. Everyday Use.
White, David. 2001. ‘Everyday Use: Defining African-American Heritage. Anniina’s
Alice Walker Page. 29 March 2007.
< > Whitsitt, Sam. In Spite Of It All: A Reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’ –
Critical Essay. African American Review, Fall 2000. 29 March 2007.
< >Read More
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