Everyday Use by Alice Walker
Through contrasting family members and views in "Everyday Use", Alice Walker illustrates the importance of understanding our present life in relation to the traditions of our own people and culture. Using careful descriptions and attitudes, Walker demonstrates which factors contribute to the values of one's heritage and culture; she illustrates that these are represented not by the possession of objects or mere appearances, but by one's lifestyle and attitude.
Throughout the story, Walker personifies the different sides of culture and heritage in the characters of Dee and the mother (the narrator). Dee can be seen to represent a materialistic, complex, and modern way of life where culture and heritage are to be valued only for their "trendy-ness" and aesthetic appeal. Mother, on the other hand, represents a simple content way of life where culture and heritage are valued for both its usefulness, as well as its personal significance.
The story clearly supports the mother?s simple, unsophisticated view of heritage, and shows disdain for Dee?s materialistic connection to her heritage. This is demonstrated from the beginning of the story. We learn very quickly that the mother has inherited many customs and traditions from her ancestors. She describes herself as ?a large big-boned woman with rough man-working hands? (485). She also describes here various abilities including, ? I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man?I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing. I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire minutes after it comes steaming from the hog. One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledgehammer and had the meat hung up to chill by nightfall.? (485). While these feats are not extraordinary, Walker exemplifies what Mother has learned from her ancestors, and that being resilient and tough is a part of her heritage. Mother is very proud of her abilities and accomplishments.
The mother, describes Dee as light skinned with nice hair and a full figure (486). She recounts Dee?s childhood and her appreciation of nice things. She was not the least upset when the family home burned to the ground while she was just a girl, ?Why don?t you do a dance around the ashes? I?d wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much.? (486)
Dee?s character in the story is a direct relation to any number of people in society that do not know or are confused about their heritage. She is struggling to create an identity for herself, and is confused as to what it encompasses. She grasps at African tradition and culture, yet fails to acknowledge her own African American culture. This happened all over America, particularly in the North, in the 1960?s, following the civil rights movement. Dee is misconstruing her heritage as material goods, as...