The characters in “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker serve as a comparison between how family heritage and traditions are viewed. Walker illustrates that heritage is represented not by the possession of items or how they look, but buy how they are used, how one’s attitude is, and how they go about a daily lifestyle. Every memory or tradition in “Everyday Use” strengthens the separation in the relationship between Dee and her mother, the narrator, which involves different views on their family heritage.
Mrs. Johnson, the mother, is described as, “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (6). She tells some of her capabilities 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” (6). This description informs readers that Mrs. Johnson has learned all the ways and traditions of her ancestors and knows how to survive from day to day. She and Maggie’s lives in the small home represent a simple, unsophisticated way of life. Dee, on the other hand is described as, “[light-skinned], with nicer hair and a fuller figure” who “wanted nice things” and “had a style of her own” (7). The clothes Dee wears and the phrases she uses to greet her mother and sister show that she has no real understanding of her background and where she comes from. This shows Dee to be materialistic, complex, and lead a life where heritage is looked upon as a trend and not for what it really represents.
Although neither Maggie nor Mrs. Johnson are very well educated they show an understanding of where they come from. Mrs. Johnson and the community raised money to send Dee to a school in Augusta. Dee received a good education, but her education has served as further separation from her family. Dee uses her knowledge to try to intimidate her family as well as others. She uses African phrases that she thinks shows an understanding of where she comes from. Neither Mother nor Maggie knows what Dee is saying. The clothes Dee wears are what she thinks are inspired by her African heritage. In reality Dee’s understanding of heritage is what has been taught to her in school, and not from her ancestors.
Mrs. Johnson, as well as Maggie, thinks Dee does not appreciate or approve anything not to her standards. Mrs. Johnson says Maggie thinks, “her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that ‘no’ is a word the world never learned to say to her” (6). Dee hated the house they used to live in before it burned down. Mrs. Johnson even had a thought that Dee could have possibly set the house on fire because she hated it so much. At the beginning of the story Mrs. Johnson says she dreams of being on a television show with Dee where they are happy and smiling at each other. Mrs. Johnson knows Dee would not approve of how she looks, she does not fit the ideal picture of what a modern African woman should...