Literary plots in which national identity and commitment to traditions are described are fascinating works that make it possible to immerse oneself in other cultures and their features. Alice Walker’s story Everyday Use is an example of such a genre, and despite its humor and irony, the essence of this narrative is deep. The story of an African-American family in which a mother (Mrs. Johnson) and her two daughters (Maggie and Dee) cope with daily routine individually and, at the same time, interact with one another, has several storylines.
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Despite her cultural background, Dee is the only one who seeks to know her heritage and, as a result, conflicts with the relatives about their passive attitude to this issue. From an economic perspective, the family cannot afford to live luxuriously, but they do not experience social pressure and are adapted to living independently. The theme of cultural heritage is the basis of this story, and the dual interpretation of this topic is the key background of Everyday Use.
Some scenes of the story clearly emphasize the life features of the characters in question and the complexity of their communication. For instance, when the mother tells about her daughter’s childhood, she mentions their different natures and notes how hard it was for her to look at Maggie’s scars and the superiority of Dee (Walker 27). The dreams that she sees disturb Mrs. Johnson, and she finds a compensatory explanation for them, trying to avoid heavy reflection (Walker 25). In general, the woman recalls the childhood of her daughters with anxiety and understands how different they have grown, but she still loves both.
The scene of Dee arriving home and her loved ones’ close acquaintance with her fiance is one of the most fascinating. Walker describes the girl as having changed significantly, and her manners and behaviors are incomprehensible to family members, which makes them perceive Dee as a stranger (33). The situation in which the elder daughter tries to teach her mother and younger sister their culture and heritage is presented comically and, at the same time, sharply.
When Dee talks about changing her name, she claims that she feels terrible “being named after the people who oppress me” (Sadeq and Al-Badawi 158). Finally, the quilts episode, the culmination in which the elder daughter is forced to give in to the younger, confirms that her attempts to educate family members in new traditions are unsuccessful (Walker 37). A pretended rather than real desire to preserve cultural heritage portrays Dee as a hysterical and inconsistent person, and the end of the story leaves readers with confidence that Mrs. Johnson and Maggie are right.
In this work, the key conflict revealed closer to the finale lies in the differing perception of the heritage and its role in life. Dee, who moved to the city, returns to her home with new ideas about the need to adhere to cultural traditions that her loved ones have forgotten (Walker 33). However, Mrs. Johnson and Maggie do not adhere to the point of view of the elder daughter and are not ready to follow her beliefs, which puts the family members on opposite sides of the worldview (Walker 36).
When the mother snatches a quilt from Dee’s hands and gives it to her younger daughter, this is a point to conclude that the conflict is not settled (Walker 37). Thus, the differences in the perception of values and their role in life determine the distinctions among the characters.
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Dee herself may believe in her new passion for heritage sincerely and does not understand why her loved ones are opposed to her desire to create a unique exhibition of family heirlooms. However, this position does not find approval among the other two characters, which leads to the conflict. As a result, an inability to understand one another’s views is less likely to cause this disagreement than Dee’s selfishness, and this background makes her the key antagonist.
Perspectives of Heritage
As a result of the conflict, the theme of heritage is revealed particularly sharply and becomes the topic that distinguishes the worldview of Dee from that promoted by her mother and sister. The girl who went to the city found out about the trend towards cultural self-identification and decided to imitate those who followed this direction (Walker 33). This is expressed in her interest in the quilts that she previously considered “old-fashioned, out of style” (Sadeq and Al-Badawi 158). As a result, Dee’s theory of the importance of adhering to national traditions is extremely harsh and similar to fanaticism.
Mrs. Johnson and Maggie, conversely, are not ready to accept the view of the high importance of maintaining the cultural traditions of generations. According to Walker, the mother is confident in her desire to protect the younger daughter from a too aggressive position of the elder one, and Dee’s arguments influence the woman’s decision (37). This result proves that the characters are unable to come to a consensus on the issue of heritage and its role in their family. When the elder sister leaves, the younger one feels freedom and maternal protection, which is most important for her (Walker 37). Therefore, the imagery and excessive romanticism of the concept of national identity that Dee promotes are the main factors of the disagreement.
Elements of Fiction Involved
When considering the elements of fiction involved, one can note a special manner of interaction among the characters, which is manifested in the dialogs and plot details. For instance, the images of the two sisters are conveyed as realistically as possible, and when Dee arrives with her fiance, her behavior openly reflects the girl’s domineering and leadership character (Walker 34). The description of family heirlooms, particularly quilts, also has significance in the context of the narrative, and their uniqueness from an aesthetic point of view is emphasized more than once.
When meeting Mrs. Johnson and Maggie, Hakim-a-barber, Dee’s fiance, is silent, and this detail leads readers to the idea that the older sister intends to rule not only her family but also her future husband (Walker 34). In general, symbols occur periodically in the story, and such an author’s technique allows creating deep subtexts and getting the most out of a small narrative.
The family conflict based on a different perception of the concept of heritage is the key theme of Walker’s Everyday Use. The interaction of the characters, their features, and manners allow readers to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the village life of the African-American family. Despite the small volume of the story, the idea is disclosed comprehensively. Special fiction details and techniques make it possible to evaluate the symbolism of individual scenes and dialogues and help understand how and why the relationships within the family in question are complicated.
Sadeq, Ala Eddin, and Mohammed Al-Badawi. “Epiphanic Awakenings in Raymond Carver’s Cathedral and Alice Walker’s Everyday Use.” Advances in Language and Literary Studies, vol. 7, no. 3, 2016, pp. 157-160.
Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press, 1994.