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“Everyday Use”: Heritage Essay

960 words - 4 pages

In “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker is exploring the concept of heritage as it applies to African-Americans. It appears to be set in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. This was the time when African-Americans were struggling to define their personal identities. Many blacks who had stories of pain and injustice wanted to rediscover their African roots, and they were denying their American heritage to do so. In “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker argues that an African-American is both African and American.
Mama knows her roots and her heritage, but does not dwell on the meaning. “I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man” (Walker, 460-461). This in addition to her reference to her second grade ...view middle of the document...

Walker also uses the butter churn to show Mama’s connection with her family and heritage:
When she finished wrapping the dasher the handle stuck out. I took it
for a moment in my hands. You didn’t even have to look close to see where
hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in
the wood. In fact, there were a lot of small sinks; you could see where thumbs
and fingers had sunk into the wood. It was a beautiful light yellow wood, from a
tree that grew in the yard where Big Dee and Stash had lived.
(Walker, 466)
When Mama takes the dasher handle in her hands, she is symbolically touching the hands of all those who used it before her. Her appreciation for the dasher and the quilts is based on love for the people who made and used them; unlike Dee’s unrealistic appreciation for the material things to show off. Dee (Wangero) has a much more shallow idea of heritage. Walker uses Dee to symbolize the Black Power movement, which was an effort among black Americans to gain control of the institutions that affect their daily lives by acquiring independent economic, social, and political power (Black Power Movement).
The quilts have a special meaning to Mama. She is reaching out to touch the people whom the quilts represent and “Dee (Wangero) moved back just enough so that I couldn’t reach the quilts” (467).
Dee’s lack of knowledge concerning her family is symbolic of the Black Power movement’s disregard for its American heritage. This neglected American heritage is represented in the story by the character of Maggie. Maggie’s scars are symbolic of the scars that...

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