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The Perception of Heritage in “Everyday Use”

The story “Everyday Use,” written by Alice Walker, is a complex narrative covering a variety of psychological and cultural issues. One of the most prominent aspects of it is the attitude of the main characters, Maggie and Dee, to their family heritage. The sisters are different in their views regarding property and, therefore, present an excellent example of materialistic and idealistic perspectives accordingly. In this way, the analysis of the perceived role of the family legacy demonstrated by diametrically opposed opinions of the characters will allow seeing the two extremes in the approach to this subject.

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The first character for comparison, Maggie, is a person of traditional views widely supported by her mother. As a girl born in an African American family, she tends to appreciate the traditional culture of this population group and adopt this attitude in all the aspects of her life. Thus, Maggie sees the cultural underpinning of all objects and struggles to protect them as a part of her identity. Therefore, she shares the vision of her uneducated mother regarding the central role of their culture in life.

As follows from Maggie’s views related to the value of traditions, the girl approaches the family heritage from a similar perspective. Considering this fact, it is clear that her attitude seems to lack practicality while focusing on the meaning of her belongings rather than the objects themselves. Hence, the quilts sawn from the pieces of clothes of people from the family define her belonging to them. This perception makes her values idealistic, but they remain traditional.

The second sister, Dee, is a person of the new generation detached from the family and traditional ways. She has an inventive and flexible mind and suffers from being forced to be one of the people protecting their culture. In this way, Dee is opposed to not only her sister and her mother but also their ethnic group as a whole. As can be seen from the latter’s observations, this difference is also demonstrated by the physical characteristics of the three of them as well. Thus, the specificities distinguishing Maggie and Dee vary and lead to the contrasting perceptions of heritage.

Throughout the narrative, the elder sister does not show any interest in the family possessions, the most essential of which are the hand-made quilts. The situation changes only when she leaves them and return in a while with her new boyfriend. By doing so, Dee is trying to prove her difference from her other female relatives. She says that she changed her name, thereby demonstrating disdain for all kinship ties. Nevertheless, this attitude does not spread to the quilts that Dee wants to take with her to the new home. However, her perception of the family heirlooms is purely materialistic.

To summarize, in her story “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker presents the motivations of people resulting in the emergence of particular views on heritage. The opposition of Maggie and Dee, in this case, can be considered as a conflict of the past and the present. The former clearly expresses her belonging to a traditional family and values possessions as a part of their identity. The latter, in turn, is a representative of the generation, which promotes the refusal of any connections and the independent formation of their personality. These circumstances affect the attitudes of the sisters towards their heritage driven by either materialism or idealism.

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