The Meaning of Heritage in Alice Walker's Everyday Use
Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," is a story about a poor, African-American family and a conflict about the word "heritage." In this short story, the word "heritage" has two meanings. One meaning for the word "heritage" represents family items, thoughts, and traditions passed down through the years. The other meaning for the word "heritage" represents the African-American culture.
There are three women in this short story, two sisters and their mother. One of the sisters is named Maggie and the other is named Dee. Maggie and her mother believe that the word "heritage" deals with their family?s traditions. These traditions are the only ones they have ever known and/or cared about. Dee, on the other hand, believes that "heritage" is about African culture, and she wants nothing to do with her family?s heritage until it is in style.
Throughout "Everyday Use," there are examples that show Maggie and her mother have knowledge about their family?s heritage. There are also examples that show Maggie and her mother cherish their family?s heritage and Dee does not. Next, there are examples that show Dee is not concerned with her family?s heritage until it becomes stylish. Finally, there are examples that show Dee embracing her African-American heritage instead of her family?s heritage.
The narrator of "Everyday Use" is the mother, and the story opens with Maggie and her mother waiting for Dee to arrive. The mother?s description of her family?s yard, "a yard like this is more comfortable than most people know" (Walker 1149), shows that she is happy and content with her current surroundings. This land is a part of their family?s heritage, and the mother is comfortable living here.
Another example of the knowledge the mother has about her family?s heritage is shown after Dee arrives home, and she is looking through a trunk at the foot of her mother?s bed. Dee pulls out two quilts and this is what the mother has to say about them:
They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and . . . hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was in the Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mountain. In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jerrell?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. (Walker 1153)
In order for the mother to explain the quilts and their origin in such a detailed manner, she had to know a lot about her family?s heritage. When Dee is asking about the butter dash and who made it, Maggie responds with the answer immediately. By Maggie answering so quickly and correctly, it shows Maggie?s knowledge about her family?s heritage, which Dee does not seem to have.
During Dee?s visit with her family, she asks for the two quilts, and...