In “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker conveys the story of a mother and her two daughters’ conflicting ideas about their identities and ancestry. Mama is a simple woman that values culture and heritage for its usefulness but also its personal significance. However, her daughter Dee represents a materialistic way of life where culture and heritage are to be valued only for their artistic appeal. Through the use of symbolism and characterization, Walker displays how Mama’s perception of her two daughter changes regarding the importance of heritage.
In the beginning, the story introduces the characterization of Mama and shows how she views her individuality. Mama waits for Dee “in the yard that Maggie and [her] made so clean and wavy” (Walker 278), which emphasizes the physical characteristics of the yard; also the use of the word “so,” shows the strong attachment that she and Maggie, her daughter, have to their home. The fact is the yard is “not just a yard. It is like an extended living room” that expresses the essence of her being (278). Also her description of herself likewise shows a familiarity and comfort with her own self: she is “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (278). Thus she knows the reality of her body and accepts it, even finding comfort in the way that her “fat keeps [her] hot in zero weather” (278). Mama is bound to her home because it represents who she is. Thus Walker implies that similarly this is how she stands in relation to her culture
Mama attempts to differentiate Maggie and Dee in their physical appearance to reveal any change in culture. Even though Maggie believes in the same culture as she does, Mama initially does not fully recognize that. Instead she focuses on describing her attributes by saying, "She knows she is not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by" (279). The absence of the “good looks” and “money” symbolizes the lack of richness and usefulness in the character, according to Mama. Mama also describes her as very shy with an indication of low-self-esteem by saying “She will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs” (279). Mama does not dislike Maggie because for example she “reads to [her]” and is a daughter with whom she can sing songs to at church (279). However, Mama believes that Dee is more physically attractive than her by saying “Dee is lighter that Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure” (279). Mama focus more on the surface area to characterize her two daughters rather their own actions. She comes to notice difference of her perception when Dee visits her.
Even though Mama believes her heritage is significant, Dee rejects the “real” heritage in favor of a constructed one. Dee is ashamed of her family’s heritage and what they represent. A young woman, she will write to her mom that she would always visit, “but will never bring her friends” (279). She didn’t want her friends to know the real conditions of...