Aesthetics in Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’

Alice Walker had a number of aesthetic goals in her short story, Everyday Use. The most pronounced aesthetic goal in the short story is the cultural heritage of any given community in general and for the African American family that is used in the short story in particular (Eagleton 67-68). She uses the quilt as a potent instrument of heritage given that the item is an inheritance from past eras of the family. Another aesthetic goal that Walker may have wanted to achieve is the superficiality of people who attempt to shun their real identity. Through the understanding of aesthetics as the perception of culture and the way one views the world, it is justifiable to say that Walker’s representation of Wangero or Dee as a confused individual, who, despite her education seems to be lacking a true sense of her individuality is an aesthetics goal (Adorno 133). The third aesthetic goal that Walker wanted to achieve through the short story Everyday Use is the beauty of simplicity. How does Alice Walker achieve the above goals? What techniques does she employ?

Several techniques are used by Alice Walker in achieving the above aesthetic goals. To begin with the goal of cultural heritage, Alice Walker makes use of the quilt and the two characters; Dee “Wangero” and Maggie. The quilt has been passed from parents to children and at the moment it is in the hands of the two sisters (Bausch & Cassill 1524-1518). As Dee goes to pursue her studies, Maggie takes care of the quilt. In a deeper sense, Maggie is representing the undiluted traditions of the family; unlike Dee whose, way of life is completely mixed up. The contest that takes place between Maggie and her sister, Dee, is reminiscent of the arguments that are common in families where the members have been exposed to different cultures. Each tries to present himself or herself as the best as Dee tries to claim that she knows how to handle the quilt better than her unschooled sister, Maggie, who may use it on a daily basis thus spoiling it.

Apart from that above, Walker has used the character Wangero or Dee to demonstrate the superficiality that emanates from shunning one’s true identity. Dee is a completely changed person. She has lost touch with her African American heritage and culture and at the same time, she does not fit in any other culture. She, therefore, stands at a crossroads; full of confusion and lack of direction. The sad thing is that she does not see this in herself. She thinks she is the best and goes ahead to dismiss Maggie as someone who does not understand how the quilt is supposed to be used.

Lastly, Walker has used the character, Maggie, to achieve the beauty of simplicity as an aesthetic goal. Maggie is not schooled and therefore does not understand the issues of modern education. When compared to Dee who has gone to school, one sympathizes with Maggie and admires the life she is leading. The sympathy is due to Dee’s mistreatment while the admiration is due to her lack of complication in the way she leads her life. A look at the character of Dee who has gone to school brings the idea that if school makes one disrespectful and confused as Dee has turned out to be, then taking Maggie’s way is the best. Her respect and love for her mother are unquestionable and she lacks the combativeness and aggressiveness of Dee.

Works Cited

Adorno ,Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.Print.

Bausch,Richard & Cassill,R.V.The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.(7th ed.).New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.Print.

Eagleton,Terry. The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1st ed.).New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.Print.

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