“No matter where life takes you don’t forget where you came from.”
In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker that is exactly what she was trying to get Dee, the daughter, to understand. The three main characters in “Everyday Use” is Dee Maggie, and Mama is the theme of the story is knowing your heritage and staying true to who you are. Walker uses setting, foreshadowing, theme, and symbolism to show the traditions of their culture.
The story “Everyday Use” took place at mama's house. The house isn’t built on 100 acres of land, but it is their home, and mama and Maggie appreciate what they have. It is a place where mama and Maggie can be free and sit and wait for the breeze. Mama said, “A yard like this is more comfortable than most people know. It is not just a yard it is like an extended living room” (Walker 427). Mama and Maggie wait in the yard that they cleaned and made wavy for Dee’s appearance. Dee gets out of the car bragging asking how I look mama and wanted to take pictures of them on her polaroid. Then mama says, “Well I say Dee” just to find out that Dee is not her name anymore. Her new name is Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo because Dee reminded her of the oppression experienced by her people. But, mama begins to tell her that she was named after her aunt Dice , and aunt Dice was named after grandma Dee. Mama was trying to explain to Dee her culture and where her name came from but Dee was more focused on her fashion and where she has gotten herself now. The only reason she is concerned with her heritage now is that it is popular and it fits in with the latest fashion.
Maggie feels, that “her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her” (Walker 427). Maggie is looked at as the shadow and Dee has nicer hair and a fuller figure. Maggie doesn’t have that confidence like Dee because she stares at the burn scars down her arms and legs. Dee feels like she is superior to everyone because she went off to college and has the latest fashion. She has been spoiled throughout her childhood and that is part of the problem when it comes to the quilts. Walker used foreshadowing when it came down to the final decision on the quilts. Maggie stated that her sister doesn’t know what the word no means to anyone, but mama finally tells her no. Mama tells Dee no and gives the quilts to Maggie.“I did something I did before: hugged Maggie to me” (Walker 432). Mama made the right decision because she is saving the quilts for Maggie when she gets married. Dee just wanted the quilts for the fashion and popularity because they were for the moment and in style. Once they are gone out of style she would forget all about them and forget the family heritage. She would disrespect the family culture by ruining grandma's handmade quilts.
“Quilting is often a community undertaking; patterns are handed down and skills are transferred from one generation to the next, thereby connecting the generations” (Wiedemann 256). The quilts were handmade by mama her sister and her mother as a symbol of family heritage. “You just will not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts” (Walker 432). Dee wanted the quilts for the wrong reason. Dee wanted the quilts because they were handmade and not stitched by a machine. Maggie told Dee, “I can remember Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 432). Maggie and Dee show the difference in their personality throughout the altercation over the quilts. Maggie knows her family heritage and doesn’t need material things to remember them or to define who she is. Meanwhile, Dee went off and changed her name. She comes back thinking she is too good for the house and complains about the seats at the dinner table. Dee is only looking for stuff to have that belongs to grandma Dee. After being told no about the quilts, Dee tells mama and Maggie that they don’t understand their heritage because they put priceless quilts to everyday use. “It’s a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live you’d never know it” (Walker 433).
Walker uses setting, foreshadowing, theme, and symbolism to show the traditions of their culture. Walker expressed the importance of heritage in “Everyday Use” through mamas character and the quilts. Mama could spit out facts about her sister or mother at any time to inform Dee of her culture and how she never forgot. She showed that when you have something good and valuable you hold onto it and cherish it. When you have something that represents your heritage put it to use every day and never forget where you came from!
- Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, edited by Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, 9th ed., Cengage, 2017, pp. 427-433.
- Wiedemann, Barbara. “Everyday Use.” Short Fiction: A Critical Companion, Jan. 1997, pp. 256–261. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=24576521&site=lrc-live.
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