Heritage in Alice Walker's Everyday Use

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Most families have some piece of jewelry, furniture, or other symbolic collectible that is passed through many generations. These things often remind a person of a beloved grandparent or great-grandparent and are seen as priceless. In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," the family heirloom, a couple of hand sewn quilts, represents the family members' emotions concerning their heritage.

Dee, the older sister, wants to hang the quilts on a wall and view her culture from a distance. In fact she even seems ashamed of her family situation. In a letter to her mother Dee says, " . . . no matter where [they] choose to live, she will manage to come and see [them], but she will never bring her friends" (87). She even goes as far as to denounce her name because she claims, " I couldn't bear it any longer being named after the people that oppress me" (89). However, her mother states that she was named after her aunt and grandmother, the very people who made her beloved quilts. She makes it apparent that her idea of appreciating her culture is to leave it alone, especially when she says, " Maggie can't appreciate these quilts! She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use"(91).

The fact is that Maggie will probably "put [the quilts] on the bed"(91)because she is active in her culture and views her heritage as part of her everyday life. She was severely burned as a child which left her very humble and scared to venture outside of her known world. Therefore, her culture is all she has, and she not only remembers it through the quilts but engages in her heritage by learning to make quilts. Consequently, when she is confronted by her demanding older sister she replies, "She can have them . . . I can [remember] Grandma Dee without the quilts" (91).

Momma has an inside view on the quilts because she helped create them and the heritage that both girls were raised in. She has already done what she needed to do to make her spot in her heritage. She is a "large, big-boned women with rough, man- working hands . . . [who] can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as any man" (87). She sees the quilts for their purpose, not their beauty. As a matter of a fact, when Dee first requests the quilt's Momma suggests the machine stitched ones because the will last longer.
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