Symbolism in Alice Walker's Everyday Use
History in the Making
Heritage is something that comes to or belongs to one by reason of birth. This may be the way it is defined in the dictionary, but everyone has their own beliefs and ideas of what shapes their heritage. In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, these different views are very evident by the way Dee (Wangero) and Mrs. Johnson (Mama) see the world and the discrepancy of who will inherit the family’s quilts. Symbolism such as certain objects, their front yard, and the different characters, are all used to represent the main theme that heritage is something to always be proud of.
The main objects of topic throughout the story are the quilts that symbolize the African American Woman’s history. Susan Farrell, a critic of many short stories, describes the everyday lives of African American Women by saying “weaving and sewing has often been mandatory labor, women have historically endowed their work with special meanings and significance” and have now embraced this as a part of their culture. The two quilts that Dee wanted “had been pieced together by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me [Mother] had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them” (par. 55) showing that these quilts were more valuable as memories than they were just blankets. The fabrics in the quilts “were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the piece of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War” (par. 55) putting forth more evidence that these are not just scraps, but have become pieces of family history. The quilts represent the family’s generations that have all maintained the same mind set and lifestyle. Dee is not trying to live this history rather she wants to put it up on the wall as “priceless” (par. 68) art to look at. The quilts deserve to belong to Maggie who still hasn’t been tainted by the modern world as Dee has so she can carry on the family’s traditional living.
The sunglasses that Dee puts on as she is leaving are a symbol of a shield that protects her from this past culture she once lived in. After walking out the front door and kissing Maggie goodbye she slides them on and get the feeling that she is not only blocking out the sun but the rest of the worlds perspective on her. When she walks to the car, “Maggie smiled; maybe at the sunglasses. But a real smile, not scared.” (par. 84) showing that Maggie is no longer afraid of the new culture of Dee but hinting that maybe one day she will become apart of it herself.
There is also the symbol of the big front yard that depicts the simplicity of the Johnson’s culture. At the opening of the story Mrs. Johnson stands outside waiting for her daughter to visit:
A yard like this is more comfortable than most people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an...