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Everyday Use by Alice Walter is an essential literary work in daily life. It proposes and acknowledges the essentiality of embracing and being proud of one's cultural heritage. The story revolves around a family whose members have different ideas of how cultural heritage should be preserved and handled (Farrell 179). Dee, on the one hand, feels that Mama has suppressed Maggie's culture because she does not keep the treasures of the family frame. Mama and Maggie, on the other hand, believe that heritage is experienced in daily life and revolves around them; thus, no need for framing. Dee understands culture as being the past, while Mama and Maggie know it as an everyday activity. Therefore, Alice Walker's story wants people to embrace heritage as part of everyday life and not just the past. Cultural heritage is immensely significant in daily life as it helps in the development of a person's ethics and morals.
Despite being considered a feminist all through her literal works, Alice Walker has been deeply considered as a black woman who is also a feminist in different works highlighted. This particular book was published in the early days of her writing life and included in her collection in love and trouble. These are stories for black women in 1973 (Baker 706). Alice tries to speak out about the discrimination of the black people living in America and be used as a voice to the voiceless blacks in the region. She feels that the voice of the rural Black woman has not been unrefined, and there is a need for it to be expressed. Due to how she covers the story, the author seems to have grown and brought up in the same environment as the voiceless black woman in question. This means that in the write-up, she tries to describe her own life in relation to the black women in the region.
Timpe Johannes introduces the audience to a dynamic philosophy of works developed by Alice, especially her works on the black life and their heritage, as explained in her story Everyday Use (Timpe). Before the introduction of the story, the audience is briefly introduced to the life of Alice Walker. This is done through a summary and the important events that took place in her life. In this write-up, Walker describes the way of life in this community was perceived to be straight forward guided by the rich heritage. Despite these efforts made on the preservation of the rich cultural heritage, Dee has shown signs of being ambitious to rise above the humble background she was brought up. She is being driven by the desire to ascend above the average heights created in society.
Everyday Use Plot
The story plot is based on Dee's family who consider cultural and family heritage to be something of massive substantiality. Mama and Maggie have maintained their family heritage all through their lives and wish Dee would do the same. However, Dee attends a college and embraces many contemporary life features, including changing her family name form Dee to an African name (Tuten, 125). This aspect forms the basis of their conflicts regarding heritage and how it should influence people's lives.
Themes of Everyday Use by Alice Walker
Conflict forms part of Walker's presentation of the story, especially conflicts in Dee's life. Cowart states that "Dee despises her mother, her sister and the church that helped to educate her" (Cowart 174). Dee's actions immensely affect Mama and Maggie as she refuses to consider heritage in the present. "Dee was angry, bitter, and resentful towards her family and their poverty" (Sadia 291). She even goes overboard to change her name form Dee to Wangero, leaving a name that was significantly important in their family lineage.
Dee is considerably in conflict with the idea of heritage and modernity. For instance, she refuses to accept Mama's quilts when she was joining college, calling them out of style and tacky; but she wants them after returning home, insisting on getting them even though Mama had promised to give them to Maggie. The quilts are a family heritage made by Mama, her sister, and her mother. This conflict made the climax of the story when Mama gave Maggie the quilts.
Other primary themes portrayed in the story are heritage and - which is the traditions, items, and thoughts that were passed down from the family over the years (Sarnowski 269). It is also used to represent the culture of the African American community. Quilts and the name Dee are majorly representative of the family heritage that the family considered must be carried on by the existing family members. However, Dee, unlike Mama and Maggie, sees the use of the heritage items and old-fashioned and opts not to take the quilts and also changes her name. Dee also wonders that her mother is still using the old items made by her father when they could afford new chairs and other things (Whitsitt 444).
Heritage is an essential aspect of all families. Families often have the opportunity of carrying on the practices and essentials of their families. Dee's family is one of such families; they had the chance of keeping the history of their family alive for years. Dee was rebellious to doing so, but luckily, Mama and Maggie managed to keep the family legacy and history alive. However "While Dee is certainly insensitive and selfish to a certain degree, she nevertheless offers a view of heritage and a strategy for contemporary African Americans to cope with an oppressive society that is, in some ways, more valid than that offered by Mama and Maggie" (Farrell 179). Heritage is thus essential in people's lives as exemplified by Maggie, who was morally upright compared to her sister Dee who chose to forget her family heritage.
Dee's Contribution to the Themes
Dee, who is also referred to as Wangero, plays an influential role in this story. She is a young African American woman who is well educated and self-confident (Sadia 291). She has a younger sister Maggie, and both were daughters to Mama (291). Dee is an important character because the story revolves around her behavior and thoughts during her visit to see her family in the Deep South, where she grew (291). At her childhood, she never liked their poverty and the primitive life they lived, and so she bitter, angry, and resentful at her family. Her hate for their living conditions grew as a result of the kind of treatment they received from people because of her roots and skin color. This character grew in him, and it erupted during this visit. Her behavior becomes odd, and the attitude towards her family had changed tremendously. At this point, she seemed unappreciative of their heritage due to failure to appreciate family members and their lifestyle; but, at times, she craves for it (291). Dee misses some of the things she used to do and have during her early life in the village. She was tired of the fake life she had adopted, but she was portrayed otherwise and sidelined from her family and roots. This aspect is portrayed when her mother refuses to give her their grandmother's quilts but preferred giving them to Maggie (292).
Dee is portrayed as selfish and phony based on the things she does. When Dee changed her name as Wangero, Cowart explains that it was a betrayal because it was inappropriate to change the name she was given (Cowart 172). Wangero's interest in her heritage isn't because she wants to embrace her culture but to on top of trends. She took pictures of the house, wanting to display the quilts and use the lid of the churn as a centerpiece, making her seem like a collector. Her actions can be described as something "whites do with their past," which is to display their things to be fashionable (Baker 706).
However, Farrell thinks the opposite of Cowart's reaction and argues Dee is a determined, bold woman that has the willingness to fight for her culture (Farrell 179). Unlike Cowart, Farrell claimed that Dee changing her name to Wangero made logic because it showed her stance towards appreciating her heritage. Farrell argues that Wangero shares the willingness to fight with the Muslims on the neighboring farm because she is not afraid to embrace her African roots (Farrell 180). Farrell views Dee's attempt to educate Mama and Maggie as a sign of love and concern because Dee wants the best for her family, even if it was harsh.
Cowart gives a view of Wangero as a cliche spoiled child who lacks the capacity of knowing the real value of things (Cowart 173). Farrell's view of Wangero is a strong African American woman wanting change and showing that it's not something to be feared, which is why her interest showed value. Cowart's critique used mostly the settings to help characterized Wangero like using the empty lawn to represent Wangero viewing it as poverty instead of being wealthy in spirit. Farrell used the evidence that because it is Mama's narration, then it is possible that Mama is projecting her want for change and glamour towards Wangero and insecurities towards Maggie.
Cowart and Farrell both presented two arguments that view Dee, or Wangero, as either a villain or heroine. I would agree with Farrell's case because we don't have a reliable narrator, and the story is all based on Mama's opinions of her daughters. Farrell noticed that Maggie isn't as weak as Mama portrayed her to because in the story Mama dreamt about being in the Johnny Carson show but declined the dream, saying that Maggie might be too nervous or shy to be in it (Farrell 181). Farrell also claims that the reason Wangero is bold and have the will to fight is that she inherited those traits from Mama since, in the end; Mama stood for Maggie and fought Wangero for the quilts. Therefore, Mama's traits and fears were projected upon both her daughters made her unreliable. So, Wangero is a heroine, according to Farrell, despite the way she is described by Mama.
Baker, Houston A., and Charlotte Pierce-Baker."Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker's" Everyday Use." The Southern Review, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1985, p. 706. Literature Resource Centre. Web. 11 July 2019.
Cowart, David. "Heritage and Deracination in Walker's Everyday Use." Studies in Short Fiction. Vol. 33, No. 2, 1996, pp. 171-184.
Farrell, Susan. "Fight vs. Flight: a Re-Evaluation of Dee in Alice Walker's Everyday Use." Studies in Short Fiction. Vol. 35, 1998, pp. 179-186.
Sadia Munir. "The defense mechanisms and the core issues of Dee in Alice Walker's Everyday Use." Language in India, Vol. 17, 2017, pp. 289-295.
Sarnowski, Joe. "Destroying to Save: Idealism and Pragmatism in Alice Walker's Everyday Use." Papers on Language and Literature. Vol. 48, No. 3, 2012, pp. 269-286.
Tuten, Nancy. "Alice Walker's Everyday Use." The Explicator, Vol. 51, No. 2, 1993, pp. 125-128.
Whitsitt, Sam. "In Spite of It All: A Reading of Alice Walker's Everyday Use." African American Review. 2000, pp. 443-459.
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