The Theme of Heritage in “Everday Use”

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In her late twentieth-century short story “Everyday Use,” African-American writer Alice Walker contrasts the struggle between the main characters involving the recurring theme. The story takes place in a rural Georgia setting during the 1970s. The plot circulates around Mama, Maggie, and Dee. Throughout, heritage develops and remains a central theme revolving them. Each of these women in the Johnson family tries to stay true to heritage value. But different roles of heritage exist between each woman, so their ways of achieving this mission differs. The story “Everyday Use” exemplifies the various understandings and use of heritage through Mama, Maggie, and Dee.

To highlight her heritage theme, Walker displays how the character Mama considers the name of Dee. Dee changes her name and Mama has a will of whether or not to use it. Throughout, Mama uses Dee and Wangero interchangeably. As David Cowart writes, Mrs. Johnson is confused and cannot commit herself to the new name. She tries to have it both ways, referring to her daughter now by one name, now by the other . . . (Cowart 1 of 7). As the narrator, Mama employs the new or original name for a reason. Carol Andrews observes that Mama administers Wangero when she is denying the view Dee has because unlike Dee she understands what the quilts represent. “Snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands . . .” (“EU” qtd. in Andrews 3 of 4). Mama explains the connection of the name Dee to female ancestors. “You know as well as me, you was named after your aunt Dicie . . . I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches” (“EU” 89). Helga Hoel writes that Mama is amazed that Dee would give up her name, “for Dee was the name of her great-gran...

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...e’s opposing view.

On the whole, Alice Walker employs the characters Mama, Maggie, and Dee to illustrate the various understandings and customs of heritage. Mama, the narrator and mother, expresses her values through abundant genealogy knowledge and daughter interactions. The elder daughter, Maggie, emerges as a result of her Mama resembling prospective, and the ability for tradition to live on through her. Yet, universal influences cause Dee, the other daughter, to develop opposing outlooks. Presence of conflicting views fester between the Johnson women. To dispel opposition, Walker rightfully places certain views on a pedestal during the final scene. Many criticize the effects of society and setting on ideals the story capitalizes. The central idea suggests Walker, an African-American woman just like the main characters, struggled with concepts herself.
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