It is a common practice in many nations to create things by hand and pass them from generation to generation. Whether these items are used daily or kept closed in a chest as the most precious possessions, they are meant to bear the history of several generations within them. However, what if someone treats such objects merely as a tribute to fashion and wants to fill their house with authentic items without being attached to them? Such an idea is uncovered in Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use.”
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There are several main characters whose attitudes toward family relations are considerably different. Whether one agrees with the mother’s opinion or with the elder daughter’s, one idea is universal about the narration. The story is ultimately not so much about preserving ancestors’ treasures as it is about the relationships among such similar in origin but different in outlooks members of one family.
The first theme that is relevant to discuss the story is that of race and ethnicity. Despite being of the same descent, the mother and two daughters all treat their race differently. The mother seems to have accepted her lot of being a humble, uneducated African American woman who does not receive much respect from others. The younger daughter, Maggie, is shy, but it is not possible to separate her shyness of being black from that of having “burn scars down her arms and legs” (Walker 23).
Finally, there is the elder daughter, Dee, who refuses even to be “named after people who oppress” her (Walker 29). The difference between the three heroines’ perception of their ethnicity is striking. Dee, who is the most determined of them all, does not agree to settle for anything less than perfect. It is her for whom the church and mother raise money to pay to school (Walker 26). It is also her, Dee, who changes her name to the bizzare “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo” (Walker 29). This girl surely knows what she wants, and she spares no effort to get it.
One cannot read “Everyday Use” without sharing the feeling of apprehension that Maggie has before her sister’s arrival. The narrator’s mentioning of “the other house” that got burned under unclear circumstances (Walker 25). Additionally, both the younger daughter and her mother feel uneasy before Dee’s visit. Their lives have become so different: the mother and Maggie still live in the house in the pasture and feel content about being where they are (Walker 26). Meanwhile, Dee, who has moved to the city, hardly wants to set her foot in this place. This contrast between the two settings and the people living in them makes the story sound gloomy and pessimistic.
However, the atmosphere of uneasiness existing between the mother and Maggie and Dee and her friend dissolves and changes to a resolute one when it comes to appreciating heritage. Dee, who has never wanted to have anything in common with “old-fashioned, out of style” quilts, suddenly wants to possess the two most precious ones (Walker 33). At this point, the narrator realizes something very important, something she might have never understood had her calm life not been disturbed by the intrusive guests.
Finally, the moment comes when the mother can oppose Dee, the girl to whom “no” has always been “a word the world never learned to say” (Walker 23). The mother understands that for Dee, quilts are merely fashion items, something she could boast in front of her friends, but which she could never appreciate to the full extent.
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It is possible to assume that since Dee intends to hang the quilts on the wall, she is more appreciative of her ancestors’ work. The girl remarks that her sister might be “backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Walker 33). However, as is evident from the narrator’s reaction, such everyday use is exactly the way to value such things. Grandma Dee and Big Dee and the narrator herself all worked hard to make these beautiful quilts.
Thus, probably the best way to acknowledge their efforts would be using these things instead of putting them in one’s apartment as adornments. And while Dee says that the mother and Maggie do not understand their “heritage,” it is obvious that she is the one least aware of what heritage is (Walker 35). Finally, Maggie can smile a “not scared” smile (Walker 35). Despite living in simple conditions and possessing simple things, the narrator and her younger daughter are truly happy.
Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” presents several important topics to contemplate, the most crucial ones being those of family relationships and attitude toward heritage. For each character, these notions mean something different, but all three females realize the value of these aspects, even though different. The main lesson learned from the story is that even excessive persistence can be overcome by the sense of love and attachment.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Everyday Use / Alice Walker, edited by Barbara T. Christian, Rutgers University Press, 1994, pp. 23-35.