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Everyday Use by Alice Walker is a story about the concept of heritage and different perspectives individuals may have about it. In particular, Everyday Use revolves around the dynamics of one family whose members experience a powerful cultural gap that sets the elder daughter, Dee, apart from her mother and sister Maggie. While both perspectives can be seen as valuable is certain ways, the author makes a clear emphasis on the view of heritage as a direct relation with family and respect for its members and history.
Mother of the Story and Her Reliability
The mother character in Everyday Use is described in detail. She is “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands”; she is very hard working, physically strong and enduring, and capable of performing harsh manual labor. She has two daughters both of whom she loves, but feels close with only one of them. Also, she seems very aware strengths and weaknesses of both young girls. As a result, she can be considered a reliable narrator as she describes both of her daughters honestly and without skipping over any of the unpleasant bit of their backgrounds such as the fire that Dee set as a child because she hated the house in which they lived and how this fire crippled Maggie for the rest of her life.
Assumptions about Daughters and Dee’s Perspective
Reflecting on her daughters, the mother describes Dee as determined, persistent, brave, educated knowledgeable about style, wanting “nice things”, and having trouble making friends or building relationships (Walker 381). As for Maggie, the mother compares her to “a dog run over by some careless person” and mentions that she walks like a lame animal – “chin on chest, eyes of ground, feet in shuffle” Walker 380). Maggie was not as bright as her sister, had little education, and was ashamed of her burn marks and scars she had from the fire set my Dee.
However, from the perspective of Dee, the story would sound differently. Dee would not describe herself as careless and selfish; instead, she would introduce herself as the only smart and educated person in the family, who has tried to educate her simple-minded relatives but never succeeded and so had to move away and continue her growth.
Personal Development Ideas and Mama’s Decision
The mother’s idea of self-development was different from Dee’s. She believed that Dee forced the knowledge on her family members that they “didn’t necessarily need to know” (Walker 381). She saw that the person into whom Dee had turned –Wangero – was a shallow admirer of history and African-American background who valued things such as the house, hand-made bench, churn, and quilts over people to whom they belonged and who had worked hard to craft these objects. The most obvious indicator of her ignorance towards her own family was the change of name as she wanted to be closer to the romanticized African culture rather than her living mother and sister. Seeing that Maggie was more appreciative of her family, its work, people, and goods they had produced, she decided to give to Maggie the hand-made quilts Wangero wanted to use as decorations at home. Thinking critically about the mother’s decision, it is possible to notice that she respected her roots, remembered her forefathers, and cherished the memories about them. The mother saw that Maggie had the same feelings and made her the rightful owner of her family’s heritage.
Walker’s Idea of Heritage, Purpose and Theme of the Story
Walker’s idea of heritage matches that of the mother. The purpose of her story is to demonstrate how differently people can perceive the connection with their background and respect for history. The major theme depicted in Everyday Use is love for one’s family that manifests through the presentation of memories about family members supported by the things they had crafter and not the other way around.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 379-386.