In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," the message about the preservation of heritage, specifically African-American heritage, is very clear. It is obvious that Walker believes that a person's heritage should be a living, dynamic part of the culture from which it arose and not a frozen timepiece only to be observed from a distance. There are two main approaches to heritage preservation depicted by the characters in this story. The narrator, a middle-aged African-American woman, and her youngest daughter Maggie, are in agreement with Walker. To them, their family heritage is everything around them that is involved in their everyday lives and everything that was involved in the lives of their ancestors. To Dee, the narrator's oldest daughter, heritage is the past - something to frame or hang on the wall, a mere artistic, aesthetic reminder of her family history. Walker depicts Dee's view of family heritage as being one of confusion and lack of understanding.
The differences in attitude that Dee and Maggie portray about their heritage are seen early in the story. When the family's house burned down ten or twelve years ago, Maggie was deeply affected by the tragedy of losing her home where she grew up. As her mother describes, "She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground" (409). Dee, on the other hand, had hated the house. Her mother had wanted to ask her, "Why don't you dance around the ashes?" (409). Dee did not hold any significance in the home where she had grown up. In her confusion about her heritage, it was just a house to her.
Another example of Dee's confusion about her own African-American heritage is expressed when she announces to her mother and sister that she has changed her name to "Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo." When her mother questions her about the change, Dee says, "I couldn't bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me" (411). According to her mother, the name has been in the family since before the Civil War and most likely represents family unity to her. However, Dee does not realize that. Apparently, she believes that by changing her name she is expressing solidarity with her African ancestors and rejecting the oppression implied by the taking on of American names by black slaves.
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...tage" (413). That comment is somewhat ironic since it appears to be Dee who does not understand what family heritage is all about.
Walker's view is very clear at the end of the story. By Dee wanting to hang the family heirloom on the wall to look at from a distance, she is alienating herself from her family heritage. That is exactly what Walker thinks is the wrong thing to do. Walker would prefer the quilts to be used and integrated into daily life, like Maggie and her mother prefer. The same idea applies to all of the other household items that Dee has her eye on: the churn top, the dasher, and the benches for the table that her daddy made. They all are a part of life for Maggie and her mother. Walker believes that the only value that they hold for Dee is that they would be good trinkets to show off in her house. By using the quilts in this symbolic way, Walker is making the point that family heirlooms can only have meaning if they remain connected to the culture they sprang from - in essence, to be put to "Everyday Use."
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Robert DiYanni, ed. Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
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