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Conflicting Ideas about Identities and Ancestry in Everyday Use Essay

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In “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker conveys the story of a mother and her two daughters’ conflicting ideas about their identities and ancestry. Mama is a simple woman that values culture and heritage for its usefulness but also its personal significance. However, her daughter Dee represents a materialistic way of life where culture and heritage are to be valued only for their artistic appeal. Walker displays how Mama’s perception of her two daughters changes regarding how they view the importance of heritage.
In the beginning, the story introduces the characterization of Mama and shows how she views her own individuality. Mama waits for Dee “in the yard that Maggie and [her] made so clean and wavy” (Walker 278). Her emphasis in the physical characteristics of the yard and the use of the word “so” shows the strong attachment that she and Maggie, her daughter, have to their home. The yard is also “not just a yard. It is like an extended living room” that expresses the essence of her being (278). The way Mama describes herself shows a familiarity and comfort with her own self: she is “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (278). Thus she knows the reality of her body and accepts it, even finding comfort in the way that her “fat keeps [her] hot in zero weather” (278). Mama is bound to her home because it represents who she is. Walker implies similarly this is how she stands in relation to her culture.
Mama attempts to differentiate Maggie and Dee in their physical appearance alone to disclose any change in culture. Even though Maggie believes in the same culture as she does, Mama initially does not fully recognize that. Instead, she focuses on describing her attributes by stating, “[Maggie] knows she is not bright. Li...


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...Mama begins to see Maggie in a different light and learns to appreciate her simplicity and goodness as compared to Dee’s sophistication and ambitions. Mama realized that Maggie is, like her, at home in her traditions, and she honors the memory of her ancestor. Walker states 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. The power of heritage cannot be overlooked or misinterpreted; it is what makes up the individual. It should not be looked upon as history but as a living existence of the past. Instead it must be put into everyday use situation to keep it alive and active.



Works Cited

Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use". Prentice Hall Literature Portfolio Ital. Ed. Christy Desmet, D. Alexis Hart, Deborah Church Miller New Jersey: Pearson, 2007.645. Print.


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