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Cultural Context in the Short Story ”Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is a short story about an African American family of Mama and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. Dee does not live with her mother and younger sister, as she is receiving an education. Upon returning home, she finds two old quilts, which seem to be cultural heritage artifacts. However, Mama believes that the quilts should be passed to the youngest daughter for everyday use. Thus, the educated and progressive Dee strives to preserve the objects of material culture, while Mama perceives tradition as the main component of cultural identity.

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When Dee discovers two old quilts, she asks Mama to take them with her. Mama remembers that they “had been pieced by Grandma Dee, and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them.”1 In response to Dee’s question, Mama offers her to take the newer quilts. Dee describes quilts as part of not only her family’s heritage but also the culture of her people. This kind of reverent attitude towards her ethnic identity is the main reason why she would like to take the quilts. However, Mama promised to give the quilts to her younger daughter Maggie for her wedding to a local man, which is why she cannot give them to Dee. Mama explains to Dee that the new machine-woven quilts are more durable and last longer. However, Dee denies the value of the quilts created in this way; she considers the old ones “priceless.”2 Additionally, she emphasizes that the younger sister, unlike her, is not able to appreciate the importance of these relics.

The main reason for leaving the quilts and handing them to Maggie for Mama was to pass the sewing skill as a cultural heritage. At the same time, Dee believes that the quilts themselves, as part of the material culture, are important to the culture of their people. Thus, the two characters of the story have different views on the preservation of heritage, and it itself consists of different components for them. Thus, Mama wants to stick to traditions that are rooted in the daily life of her family and people, while Dee sees the situation differently. Young woman perceives old things as a rarity in the modern world, which has value and should be preserved as long as possible.

In my opinion, the history of the quilts debate raises important questions about culture and its essence, as well as the nature of cultural heritage. The author describes the process of transformation of the culture of a certain group. Using Mama as an example, she describes the old way that she adheres to and passes to her youngest daughter. In contrast, Dee is more progressive and strives to integrate her traditional culture into a new, modern world. The author’s inferred decision assumes that many traditional values remain hidden from the world and are gradually forgotten, leaving everyday life. Maggie is not a part of the old culture, which is so dear to Mama, and she is unlikely to be able to become its bearer in the future.

Thus, traditions are lost without intentional preservation, and the cultural identity of peoples disappears. Based on this inferred decision, I can conclude that the short story implies the need for introducing small cultures into a general cultural context, where they will be given due attention. The modern world does not provide opportunities for the natural preservation of traditional ways of life, which leads to the loss of important cultural values.

Reference

Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Everyday Use, Rutgers University Press, 1994, pp. 23-39.

Footnotes

  1. See Walker, 32
  2. See Walker, 33

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StudyCorgi. "Cultural Context in the Short Story ”Everyday Use” by Alice Walker." December 5, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-short-story-everyday-use-by-alice-walker/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Cultural Context in the Short Story ”Everyday Use” by Alice Walker." December 5, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-short-story-everyday-use-by-alice-walker/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Cultural Context in the Short Story ”Everyday Use” by Alice Walker'. 5 December.

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