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The Theme Of Heritage In “Everday Use”

1544 words - 6 pages

In her late twentieth-century short story “Everyday Use,” African-American writer Alice Walker contrasts the struggle between the main characters involving the recurring theme. The story takes place in a rural Georgia setting during the 1970s. The plot circulates around Mama, Maggie, and Dee. Throughout, heritage develops and remains a central theme revolving them. Each of these women in the Johnson family tries to stay true to heritage value. But different roles of heritage exist between each woman, so their ways of achieving this mission differs. The story “Everyday Use” exemplifies the various understandings and use of heritage through Mama, Maggie, and Dee.
To highlight her heritage theme, Walker displays how the character Mama considers the name of Dee. Dee changes her name and Mama has a will of whether or not to use it. Throughout, Mama uses Dee and Wangero interchangeably. As David Cowart writes, Mrs. Johnson is confused and cannot commit herself to the new name. She tries to have it both ways, referring to her daughter now by one name, now by the other . . . (Cowart 1 of 7). As the narrator, Mama employs the new or original name for a reason. Carol Andrews observes that Mama administers Wangero when she is denying the view Dee has because unlike Dee she understands what the quilts represent. “Snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands . . .” (“EU” qtd. in Andrews 3 of 4). Mama explains the connection of the name Dee to female ancestors. “You know as well as me, you was named after your aunt Dicie . . . I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches” (“EU” 89). Helga Hoel writes that Mama is amazed that Dee would give up her name, “for Dee was the name of her great-grandmother, a woman who kept the family together against all odds” (3 of 5). Mama knows the family significance of the name and tries to express it to Dee.
Along with the name of Dee, Mama emphasizes heritage through the quilts. “The mother understands that the quilts represent her family heritage because they are composed of pieces of the lives of previous generations” (Andrews 3 of 4). Mama feels the true meaning of the family quilts. The quilts represent tradition. Critic David Cowart reiterates the quote of Barbara Christian which is “heritage . . . must continually be renewed rather than fixed in the past”. Thus for mother heritage is living tradition manifested through homely skills, such as quilt-making, passed on (Cowart 4 of 7). Mama denies Dee of possessing the quilts and “feels like she was touched by the spirit of God in church” (Farrell 4 of 5). She chooses Maggie to have the symbolic quilts over Dee. By selecting Maggie Mrs. Johnson recognizes the quilt connection with her (Piedmont-Marton 9 of 13). Mama realizes that heritage must be kept up because “the art will die if women like Maggie do not keep it up” (Cowart 4 of 7). Values of both daughters become factors during the decision Mama makes. “The...

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