The short story Everyday Use written by Alice Walker is aimed at showing how different generations of African Americans perceive their cultural heritage and estimate its inherent value. In particular, the author focuses on several characters such as Mama, who is the first-person narrator, and her daughter Dee.
Alice Walker shows that Dee tries to appear very progressive and sophisticated, especially in comparison with her mother and sister; yet, this character looks very pretentious or even foolish. However, she is not aware of this problem since she dismisses the values of her mother.
Overall, the writer shows that some people can treat cultural heritage as a mere form of decoration that does not have any relevance to everyday life, but they do not understand this attitude is very superficial because cultural heritage is something that a person should readily embrace and use on a regular basis. Furthermore, Dee’s worldview leads to the devaluation of cultural heritage. This is the main thesis that should be discussed more closely since it is important for understanding the ideas expressed by Alice Walker.
It should be noted that Dee is an individual who wants to re-invent her identity. In particular, she wants to demonstrate that she is not connected to the previous generations of African Americans who could be the victims of oppression. This is one of the reasons why she assumes a new name, Wangero since it can highlight her African origins (Walker 28).
She admits that this name sounds rather awkward or at least unconventional; in addition to that, her mother cannot easily pronounce. This is one of the points that should be made. More importantly, she does not see that in this way, she rejects her cultural heritage. In particular, she abandons the name that has been used in her family for many generations.
This is one of the details that Dee completely disregards. Overall, she does not understand the contradictory nature of her behavior. This is one of the details that can attract readers’ attention. Overall, her attitudes can be better illustrated if one looks at the way in which she treats material objects that have been used in her family for many generations. This discussion can be helpful for explaining the conflict between Dee and her relatives. This conflict plays a critical role in this short story.
Overall, Dee perceives her cultural heritage only as a souvenir that should be displayed to other people; to a great extent, it is similar to an art exhibit. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about the hand-stitched quilts that she wants to take. However, she just wants to hang them on the wall without using them. She believes that they should be simply displayed to other people. In this way, she simply tries to highlight her African identity.
Dee says that these quilts are “priceless”, but she does not consider the idea that they can be put to practical use (Walker 33). On the whole, she does not see that cultural heritage should have some practical applications that can benefit a person on a daily basis. This is one of the aspects that should be distinguished. It is possible to compare Dee with her sister Maggie since the author wants to illustrate the way in which these people differ from one another.
It should be mentioned that Maggie is a very gentle person, but Dee believes that she is “backward” because she cannot understand the value of cultural heritage (Walker 33). Mama wants to offer some of the quilts to Maggie when she marries. This idea is completely unacceptable to Dee who perceives these quilts only a decoration. She says that Maggie “put them on the bed” and the quilts will eventually turn into “rags” (Walker 33).
This is her major concern. It does not even occur to her that these quilts were supposed to be “put on the bed” (Walker 33). Unlike Dee, Mama takes this assumption for granted. In turn, Dee becomes exasperated because Mama does not understand why quilts should be only hung on the wall.
One should mention that Dee had an opportunity to get access to education; as a result, she immediately dismisses the opinions or values of her relatives. However, Dee does not see that this arrogance can be compared to cruelty or at least callousness. These are of the main details that should not be overlooked by the readers.
On the whole, this short story illustrates the way in which the meaning of cultural heritage can be misinterpreted. By trying to emphasize her sophistication, Dee proves to be a very superficial individual. She wants to distance herself from Mama and Maggie. In her opinion, they are uncouth or uneducated.
To some degree, she is ashamed of associating herself with these people, but in this way, she rejects her African-American identity. Thus, Alice Walker shows how erroneous and even cruel this behavior is. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.
Walker, Alice. Everyday Use, New York: Rutgers University Press, 1994.