Accepting One's Heritage in "Everyday Use"

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Author Alice Walker is an African American woman who grew up in the rural south during segregation, as is the narrator in "Everyday Use", Ms. Johnson. Walker feels that one's name should be revered for its symbol of ancestry, as she did when she took back her maiden name to honor her great-great-great-grandmother. In Walker's "Everyday Use," she uses a symbolic quilt to express the differences of understanding one's heritage within a single family. The precise setting of "Everyday Use" is not given but it can be assumed that the geographical setting is in a southern countryside likely to be in Georgia. The physical setting, a three-bedroom shack with a tin roof and irregular holes cut in the walls for windows, is in a pasture with cows roaming all around (356-57). The large yard is described as an "extended living room" because it is more comfortable than being inside the house where the breezes do not reach (354). The historical period in which this story takes place may be around the time of the civil rights movement. The publication date is roughly five to ten years after the peak of the movement. The major characters in "Everyday Use" are a mother and her two daughters, Maggie and Dee (who later changes her name to Wangero). Dee's friend, Hakim-a-barber comes into the story as a foil. The mother, Ms. Johnson, is the narrator in the story as a static character. She is an African American woman with only a second grade education yet a self-reliant individual. She says that she has "rough, man-working hands" from laboring in the yard all day (355). She also raises and kills her own meals as she describes, "One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledge hammer and had the meat hung... ... middle of paper ... ...sents some discrepancies in how people value their family history. To some, family does not mean much at all but others are very much aware of their ancestors and the traits that they share in common. Some people use this self-awareness to better themselves while others find ways of exploiting it to satisfy their superficial needs. Dee is the type of individual that misuses her heritage. She is using it to fit in and attract the new religious group with which she has begun to associate. Maggie just seems oblivious, although the story does not allow the reader to know what she is thinking. The truth is that Maggie and her mother are living their heritage. This is the lesson that Dee's mother is trying to teach her; to accept and embrace who she is rather than continuously search for something she is not. She could search for her entire life and never be fulfilled.

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