In the short story “Everyday Use” Alice Walker focuses on the concept of cultural heritage and the way it can be perceived (or even distorted) by different people. One of the main characters, Dee is a person who attempts to alienate herself from her roots in every possible way. She can be simultaneously sophisticated and ridiculous, educated, and ignorant, stylish and tasteless. The main reason for that is her inability to accept her culture that in her opinion is dated and out-of fashion.
At the very outset of the story, it becomes obvious that she wants to look and sound different from her family, her mother Ms. Johnson (the narrator) and her sister Maggie. It can be observed in her behavior, speech, and even clothes. Throughout the story, the author contrasts Dee and her family paying extra attention to the way they interpret their culture. First, Dee greets her mother in a very strange fashion, instead of saying “Good morning” which would have been more natural under such circumstances, she says “Wa-su-zo-Tean-o!”(Walker, 28). We can see the she is trying to sound very unusual but such a form of salutation makes her slightly ridiculous because it is alien to her mother and sister. The absurdity of her behavior becomes noticeable even in the way she dresses. The person, wearing a very long dress on a hot day cannot be characterized as very sensible and Ms. Johnson points it out immediately Furthermore, this woman seldom comes to see her relatives and even now her visit has a very specific purpose, to take some antiques from her mothers house. Dee does not even ask neither Mama not Maggie anything about their life though she has not seen them for a long time.
As the story progresses Alice Walker gives the reader additional clues about Dees personality. The fact that this woman does not want to be called by her own name “Dee” is very telling. When her mother wonders what happened to Dee she says, “Dee is dead” (Alice Walker, 29). She does not want to be “named after people who oppress her” (Walker, 29). The narrator, though she is not as sophisticated as her daughter is, detects the inconsistency in her logic and tells her that she was called after her aunt but Dee overlooks her remark. To a certain degree, her rejection of her name is very symbolic because consequently she denounces her own culture deeming it unworthy of her. Nevertheless, it seems to Dee (or Wangero as she names herself) that she has a right to criticize Mama and Maggie for not understanding their heritage.
It is not implicitly expressed by the author but it is worth mentioning that Dee wants to segregate herself even from her family because she considers them too simple in the negative sense of this word or even ignorant (to be more exact). The narrators recollections eloquently substantiate this statement. Being more educated than Mama or Maggie, Dee is desperately trying to place emphasis on this fact, which makes the rest of the family feel as if they were “dimwits” (Walker, 29). However, it should be taken into account that a truly educated person would never boast of his or her knowledge or manners. We can observe a very curious paradox: considering herself a forward thinking person, Dee remains ignorant. Unlike her daughter, Ms. Jonson did not have a chance to receive a good education but she did her best to give it to her older daughter but she does not seem to appreciate it.
In addition to that, Dee views her family as somewhat old-fashioned. She wants Mama to give her the old quilts. When Ms Johnson says that it is Maggie’s wedding present” Dee is very astonished and says that her sister is “backward enough to put them to everyday use.”(Walker, 33). The word “backward” becomes crucial in this case, because it refers to not only Maggie or Mama but to African-American culture in general. Dee wants to turn them into museum pieces, something that has become a remnant of a long-forgotten past. At first glance, it may seem that Dee genuinely wants to preserve these quilts as family treasure, and her motives may even appear to be noble but in fact, it is just a desire to be fashionable. Earlier when Ms. Johnson offered one of the quilts to her, Wangero did not accept this offer because at that moment such quilts were “out of style” (Walker, 33). Therefore, it is quite possible for us to say that she is mostly driven by her selfishness. Dee accuses her relatives of not understanding their heritage, though she herself does not even value it. We can see the alienation even in the way she leaves the place: both her mother and her sister feel very much relieved when Dee finally departs. For them she is no longer an insuperable part of the family.
Thus, having analyzed the novel “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker we can arrive at the conclusion that through such characters as Dee (or Wangero) the author shows how people can reject not only their culture but also their families. It can be observed in Dees behavior, speech and even in the way she treats her relatives. First, we should say that this person rejects her own name (and subsequently her culture); secondly, she deems her mother and sister as backward and even ignorant though they seem to have more common sense than she does.
Alice Walker, Barbara Christian. “Everyday Use” Rutgers University Press, 1994.