The short story Everyday Use by Alice Walker challenges the impact and influence of African-American culture and heritage on people and their destinies. In order to reveal the message of the story in a subtle yet clear way, the author resorts to the use of various values and beliefs, lifestyle and life philosophies. The goal that the author sets before herself in the story is to define African American heritage and the approach to it. Thesis Through the character of Dee, Walker portray that a culture and lifestyle cannot be learnt in a short period of time, even if a person changes her name and speaks another tongue.
Dee is a rebellious person who does everything possible to change her destiny and life. Dee Johnson changes her name and manners but she supposes that these actions help her to affirm her African culture and background. She changes her name to Wangero explaining that she “couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (Walker n.d.). Dee seems to value family artifacts, but certainly in a different way that Mama and Maggie. The contrast presented between the superficial and practical values of the older daughter and practical considerations of the younger one is quite potent and it helps the author explore the very concept of ethnic heritage. The ultimate importance of appreciating the cultural heritage is illustrated by the fact that the ordinary household items connect many generations. In contrast to Dee, the author praises the appreciation showed by Mama and Maggie towards such simple items, which in fact symbolizes their love and respect for those who used them before.
Walker compares Dee’s practical considerations and Maggie’s appreciation of the sentimental value. In contrast to her sister, Dee is unaware with the history of quilts and butter churns. Maggie comments “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash,’ said Maggie so low you almost couldn’t hear her. “His name was Henry, but they called him Stash’” (Walker n.d.). Dee symbolizes the new generation of African Americans, who viewed heritage practically rather than sentimentally. She is described as a successful and beautiful girl, but her beauty is superficial, as it is created by her fancy jewelry and sophisticated dress. Dee’s outfit, her new name and everything about her serves as a symbol of her practical attitude towards the heritage.
Dee’s ignorance as regards her family symbolizes neglect for American heritage, shown by the representatives of the Black Power movement. Dee expresses the desire to have the “churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table”, “display part of it in her alcove, and do something artistic with the rest of it” (Walker n.d.). In her view the quilts would make nice wall decorations. It is thus clear that Dee fails to value their ethnic heritage, as she only views it as something adding to her sophistication. It is ironic that before Dee took no interest in the quilts, as “They were old-fashioned and out of style”. Dee finds fault with Maggie, who could “be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Walker n.d.). Through the character of Dee, Walker depicts that the language, closely connected with African nationalism. Dee is apt to modern culture and new world philosophy in order to escape ‘poverty’ and destiny of her mother. This was made apparent in the ways in which ethnic identities were subsumed, and still are, within and between economic identities, a political-economic class identity with the ethnic referent made invisible. They all serve the purpose of illustrating the approach to cultural heritage that African Americans practiced.
Dee is unsympathetic character who lacks human values and patience. For instance, she hurts her sister describing her as old-fashioned and unwise. Dee comments: “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Walker n.d.). This remark unveils cold and unsympathetic character driven by personal gain only. For Dee, quilts do not symbolize old traditions and have no value. Mama comments: “Dee (Wangero) looked at me with hatred” (Walker n.d.). The character of Dee is contracted with her sister Maggie depicted as a keeper of century old traditions and national dressing as a part of her culture. Quilts can be explained as a way of living built up by the nation and transmitted from one generation to another but rejected by Dee.
In sum, Dee is described as a rebellion person who tries to change her life and destiny. She resists and rejects old traditions and values accepting modern culture and life style. Walker vividly portrays that culture and heritage helps a person learn not only how to perform acceptably but also how to judge the performance of others in a way that is similar to the judgments of others in the group. Against the background of family relationships, through the character of Dee Alice Walker makes a strong point – African American heritage should be celebrated as an inseparable part of everyday life rather than tribute to sophistication.
Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. N.d.