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Adopted Heritage In Alice Walker's Everyday Use

1722 words - 7 pages

 
     Each of us is raised within a culture, a set of traditions handed down by those before us. As individuals, we view and experience common heritage in subtly differing ways. Within smaller communities and families, deeply felt traditions serve to enrich this common heritage. Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" explores how, in her eagerness to claim an ancient heritage, a woman may deny herself the substantive personal experience of familial traditions.

            Narrated by the mother of two daughters, the story opens with an examination of one daughter's favoring of appearances over substance, and the effect this has on her relatives. The mother and her younger daughter, Maggie, live in an impoverished rural area. They anticipate the arrival of the elder daughter, Dee, who left home for college and is bringing her new husband with her for a visit. The mother recalls how, as a child, Dee hated the house in which she was raised. It was destroyed in a fire, and as it was burning, Dee "(stood) off under the sweet gum tree... a look of concentration on her face", tempting her mother to ask, "'why don't you do a dance around the ashes?'" (Walker 91) She expects Dee will hate their current house, also. The small, three-room house sits in a pasture, with "no real windows, just some holes cut in the sides" (Walker 92), and although, as Dee asserts, they "choose to live" in such a place, Dee keeps her promise to visit them (Walker 92). Her distaste for her origins is felt by her mother and Maggie, who, in anticipation of Dee's arrival, internalize her attitudes. They feel to some extent their own unworthiness. The mother envisions a reunion in which her educated, urbane daughter would be proud of her. In reality, she describes herself as "a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In the winter I wear... overalls during the day. ...my fat keeps me hot in zero weather" (Walker 91). In the fantasy of their reunion, she appears as "my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake" (Walker 91). In fantasy, she converses eloquently with Johnny Carson; in reality, she knows that, unlike Dee, she could not "(look) a strange white man in the eye" (Walker 91). The younger daughter, Maggie, like her mother, lacks the education and style important to her sister. She carries scars on her arms from the fire that destroyed their house, reads clumsily to her mother, and "knows she is not bright" (Walker 92). With increasing anxiety, Maggie awaits Dee's visit, and upon Dee's arrival, actually attempts to escape into the house. Her mother forces her to stay with her in the yard to greet Dee and her new husband. However Dee may wish them to be, this is who they are.

            Dee personifies her own values. "At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was" (Walker 92). With her husband, she arrives at her mother's home in a brightly-colored dress, adorned with flashy jewelry, her...

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