Everday Use: African-American Heritage

Everday Use: African-American Heritage

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"Everyday Use:"

African-American Heritage

Everyone is raised within a culture with a set of customs and morals handed down by those generations before us. As individuals, we view and experience heritage in different ways. During history, different ethnic groups have struggled with finding their place within society. In the 1950s and 60s African Americans faced a great deal of political and social discrimination based on the tone of their skin. After the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, many African Americans no longer wanted to be identified by their African American lifestyle, so they began to practice African culture by taking on "Afro hairdos, African-influenced clothing, and adoption of African names" (101). By turning away from their roots, many African Americans embraced a culture that was not inherited, thus putting behind the unique and significant characteristics of their own inherited culture. In "Everyday Use" written by Alice Walker, the family's contrasting views convey that the honest and most truthful way to honor one's heritage is by treating it not as superficial but rather as practical. Mama represents the practical way of honoring heritage by appreciating the items that were obtained from other generations and putting them to everyday use. Dee, on the other hand, honors the superficial way of heritage by being concerned with the materialistic values of her African American heritage. Mama and Dee's individuality contribute to their conflicting views of how to respect heritage.
Mama, the narrator of the story, describes herself as a "large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands who can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man" (102). She does not provide a fascinating picture of herself; however she goes on to describe the many things she can do and accomplish. The many things that Mama can do and accomplish were passed down through generations before her. By honoring the practical use of her heritage she is a well-rounded person. She is self-reliant to the point where she can depend on herself for survival with the skills she acquired. Also, she is responsible and trustworthy because she is accountable for her own actions and can accomplish the same things as a man. Like the traits and items passed down generation from generation, she seems more interested in there practicality, and less interested in there superficiality or beauty and value. Dee, on the other hand, is defined by her sense of style and power.

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Dee shows her sense of power by "always looking anyone in the eye without any hesitation" (102). At the age of sixteen Dee maintained a style of her own and she "knew what style was" (103). Before attending college and changing her name, she denied the inherited items offered to her because they were "old-fashioned and out of style" (107). When she became a member of the Islam Nation and changed her name to Wangero, she saw the inherited items as a part of her heritage and works of art that contained worth. Walker uses the butter churn and dasher as an item to distinguish the views between Mama and Dee.
One piece of heritage that confirmed Mama and Dee's contrasting beliefs was the butter churn and dasher. The history behind the butter churn and dasher were both described by Mama. The butter churn, which "you didn't even have to look close to see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood" (106), was an item that Dee wanted to take back home. She wanted to use the churn top as a "centerpiece for the alcove table" and would also "think of something artistic to do with the dasher" (106). Dee never seems to consider that she is taking away her mother's butter churn, a useful item, for an unimportant use. Mama's practical view of the butter churn and dasher was they were something of use. If the items were broken, it would only be common sense to throw them away. Since the butter churn and dasher were still in decent shape they had a purpose and Mama fulfilled it by putting them to everyday use. Through the generations they acquired more and more appreciation because it symbolized the people who made and used them. From Dee's superficial view the butter churn and dasher were materialistic. She only looked at the surface characteristics of them and didn't want to put them to use because of their face value. Dee wasn't concerned with the meaning behind the items; she was appreciating them for their monetary value. The two quilts also demonstrate Mama and Dee's contrasting views.
Another item that Walker uses to define the opposing viewpoints of practical and superficial is the two quilts. The quilts associate pieces of fabric from many generations including "scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago and fabric from Great Grandpa Ezra's uniform that he wore in the Civil War" (106). Mama sees the quilts as a sense of warmth and closeness to the family members they represent. Through her practical ways of honoring heritage, she found ways to recycle and use the quilts. By recycling the clothing of the many generations, she was reaching out to touch the people whom the quilts represent. By the everyday use of the quilts for warmth, Mama was able to remember her heritage she acquired and the memories of her African-American heritage. Dee sees the quilts as having historical and cultural value because of the hand stitching and material used, but finds the use of them pointless. She only wants to "hang them" (107) on a wall because that's the "only thing you could do with quilts" (107). She feels that if they are put into everyday use, "they'd be in rags" (107). Quilts are made for a reason and to hang them on a wall is not one of the reasons. By not putting the quilts in use it seemed that she wanted to preserve them for what they were worth. With her superficial views, Dee tends not to acknowledge and respect the American heritage of her culture; instead she acknowledges the African heritage.
Throughout the specific details and attitudes about the contrasting practical and superficial views of heritage in "Everyday Use," the best way to celebrate one's heritage is by treating it not as superficial but as practical. Through the butter churn and dasher, and the two quilts, Mama and Dee honor their heritage differently. Mama views and honors her heritage as practical by appreciating what she acquired from previous generations and putting the passed down items into everyday use. Dee views and honors her heritage as superficial by appreciating the passed down items for there materialistic and artistic value. Through "Everyday Use" one can learn that culture and heritage are taught from one generation to the next, not suddenly gained. A person who possesses their inherited heritage puts it to use everyday in life.
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