Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, explores in her
short story “Everyday Use” the conflict of class within a
family of females through their culture and heritage.
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The story centers around Dee Johnson, her sister, Maggie, and
their mother, Mrs. Johnson. Although each possesses the same
culture and live in the same environment, Dee chooses to live
differently from them. Maggie and Mrs. Johnson are content with
living a simple life, through which their heritage signifies pride and
usefulness. Not only are they well versed about the family
history, but they also utilize the skills that have been passed on
to them by their ancestors. Dee, on the other hand, refuses to
acknowledge that she is a product of her environment and
instead longs for a life built on materialism and pretentiousness.
Dee goes off to school and experiences the world outside of the
life she has endured with Maggie and their mother. Her
nonconformity goes to new heights. On a return visit home, Dee
flaunts not only her male companion, but also her new persona
that includes a fashionable wardrode, a new attitude, and a new
Dee has changed her name to Wangero. She has always despised
the fact that she was named after relatives, who she claims has
oppressed her. Dee felt oppressed by her birth name because
every preceding female relative named “Dee” worked hard--and
she didn't want to be associated with hard labor. To show off her
newfound culture, Dee now considers her mother's quilts and
parts of the churn--all handmade by her relatives--as artistic or
antiques, instead of parts of her heritage. Although she wants to,
Mrs. Johnson doesn't remind Dee that she offered her one of the
quilts before she went off to college, and at the time, Dee said
they were old-fashioned and out of style. Now Dee thinks they're
priceless. When Mrs. Johnson explains that she was saving the
quilts for Maggie once she marries, Dee rebuts by saying, “She'd
probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”
Dee appears worldly and educated, but her arrogance and
ignorance of her culture and heritage discredits her
pretentiousness. She is a stranger to her own family culture and
heritage and doesn't value either one. Dee believes that...