In the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the author portrays opposing ideas about one’s heritage. Through the eyes of two daughters, Dee and Maggie, who have chosen to live their lives in very different manners, the reader can choose which character to identify most with by judging what is really important in one’s life. In Dee’s case, she goes out to make all that can of herself while leaving her past behind, in comparison to Maggie, who stays back with her roots and makes the most out of the surroundings that she has been placed in. Through the use of symbolism, the tangible object of a family heirloom quilt brings out these issues relating to heritage to Mama, and she is able to reasonably decide which of her daughters has a real appreciation for the quilt, and can pass it on to her. Dee and Maggie shed a new light on the actual meaning of heritage through their personality traits, lifestyle decisions, and relationships with specific family members.
Although all of the character’s views on heritage are expressed, Dee’s character is given the more detailed description of ways she strays from her heritage. From the beginning, Dee despises the home that they live in. When it is destroyed in a fire, her mother wants to ask her, “Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes?,” expressing Dee’s utter aversion towards the home (Walker 409). Most people take pride in their home and cherish it for all of the memories that it holds for them, but Dee is insensitive to the family’s loss. After becoming of age, Dee decides to go to college, where she begins to hold her newly found knowledge against her family because of their lack of it. This opportunity to go out of her town and see the world gives Dee a taste of a better lifestyle that she wants to become apart of, and leaves her family behind. While Dee is away at college, she denies the quilts that her mother has offered her saying that “they were old-fashioned, and out of style” because she is still longing to separate herself from her family as much as possible (Walker 413). One of the main things that Dee does to distance herself from her family, and tarnish part of her family’s tradition is the changing of her name Dee Johnson, to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because she feels that it comes from “the people that oppressed me” (Walker 411). This act comes to Mama...
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...and Mama are indifferent to her rude remark. Maggie smiles though, in a way that lets the reader know that she has finally found a place in her mother’s heart. She does not feel as though she has lost out to Dee, but rather that Dee is the one missing out, because she has no concept of what really matters in life. Maggie and Mama do not have to go out and try to prove to the world how far they have come and cover up for their past like Dee. A sense of heritage is the best gift that anyone could ever be given. Unfortunately for Dee, she is looking for material objects to fill that space in her that she has more than once denied. The story makes it apparent that their are different ways to interpret one’s heritage. For those people who are more secure with who they are, heritage is something that they can pride themselves on and not be ashamed of because of where they came from. Heritage is a person’s undeniable past that they carry around with them everyday, it cannot be found in a mere tangible object.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. 4th ed. Robert DiYanni, Ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1998. 408-413.
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