Symbolism in Alice Walker's Everyday Use

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Symbolism in Alice Walker's Everyday Use

History in the Making

Heritage is something that comes to or belongs to one by reason of birth. This may be the way it is defined in the dictionary, but everyone has their own beliefs and ideas of what shapes their heritage. In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, these different views are very evident by the way Dee (Wangero) and Mrs. Johnson (Mama) see the world and the discrepancy of who will inherit the family’s quilts. Symbolism such as certain objects, their front yard, and the different characters, are all used to represent the main theme that heritage is something to always be proud of.

The main objects of topic throughout the story are the quilts that symbolize the African American Woman’s history. Susan Farrell, a critic of many short stories, describes the everyday lives of African American Women by saying “weaving and sewing has often been mandatory labor, women have historically endowed their work with special meanings and significance” and have now embraced this as a part of their culture. The two quilts that Dee wanted “had been pieced together by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me [Mother] had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them” (par. 55) showing that these quilts were more valuable as memories than they were just blankets. The fabrics in the quilts “were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the piece of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War” (par. 55) putting forth more evidence that these are not just scraps, but have become pieces of family history. The q...

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...big yard, and the characters are all symbols that have gotten the theme across that you must always cherish your heritage. Dee will go back to the city and support her more broad perspective of all blacks as Mama will stick to her tighter confines of family history. The one young lady (Maggie) that has yet to be engulfed by others opinions will be the one to press on both histories as one:

When Maggie finally smiles ‘a real smile’ at the end of the story as she and her mother watch Dee’s car disappear in a cloud of dust, it is because she knows her ‘mother holy recognition of the scarred daughter’s sacred status as quilter is the best gift if a hard-pressed womankind to the fragmented goddess of the present.’ (Piedmont-Marton)

This story full of symbols will carry on generation to generation because as things change so will the people and their outlooks on life.
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