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Walker's Message Of Personal Heritage In "Everyday Use"

1970 words - 8 pages

Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” is a short story about a mother and two very different daughters set in rural Georgia during the late 1960’s. The plot is centered around on the two daughters, Dee and Maggie, and focusing on the differences between the two and who will gain possession of two hand-made quilts that are seen as a coveted trophy by Dee and are viewed as everyday items Maggie. The final decision of which daughter ultimately receives the quilts will be made by Momma Johnson. Momma, who is never given a first name in the story, is a strong black woman with many man-like qualities. “In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In the winter I wear flannel nightgowns to bed and overalls during the day.” (DiYanni 744) Momma is a tough woman and has had to be both father and mother to the daughters although the story never comments on the absence of the father. The story revolves around a visit home by Dee who has been away at college and has recently discovered the true meaning of black heritage with her adoption of ideas and practices from black power groups while simultaneously rejecting her own upbringing. Upon arriving home, Dee announces that she has changed her name to “Wangero” in defiance of her white oppressors and to embrace her newly found African heritage with a more appropriate black name. Dee and Maggie are complete opposites in appearance, education and desire to escape their childhood surroundings. Maggie has little education and no noticeable desire to improve her situation and prefers to be left alone in the shadows where she can hide her physical and emotional scars from a house fire when she was a child. Hand sewn quilts become the objects of Dee’s desires; objects which she intends to use as trophies to display her newly found heritage. Momma is faced with making a spontaneous choice of either allowing Dee to continue to dominate her sister, which has usually been the case, or standing up for Maggie even when she refuses to do so herself. I will be focusing this paper on the reasons why Maggie should be given the quilts, reasons why Dee should not be allowed to take them, and what this tell us about Alice Walker’s sense of what it means to be in touch with one’s heritage.
Maggie deserves the quilts because she appreciates the practical value of the items and would naturally use them as they were intended. Like her grandmother, Maggie is a person who values the quilts more as a practical solution for staying warm at night than as folk art which should be displayed in a museum. Dee’s thoughts of her simple-minded sister come into full light during a conversation with Momma when her request for the quilts is denied. “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! She’d probably be backward enough to put them the everyday use. I reckon she would,” Momma replied, “God knows I been saving ‘em long enough with nobody using ‘em. I hope she will.” (DiYanni 748) With little or no...

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