In her short story, Everyday Use, Alice Walker gives insight into the dynamics within an African-American family in understanding African-American history and culture. The story is narrated by a rural African-American woman, Mrs. Johnson, whose daughter visits her with her male companion. Alice Walker employs quilts as a symbolic instrument of everyday use to represent familial relationships and the importance of retaining tradition.
In the story, the quilt represents one of the important symbols of family relationships, particularly among different generations of women. Mrs. Johnson says that the quilt pieces were taken from Grandma Dee’s dresses, Grandpa Jarrell’s paisley shirts, and Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform (Walker, 2020). Hence, she sees quilts as objects that symbolize memories of her family and ancestors. Moreover, the quilt mainly represents the relationship between different generations of women who were at home and sew quilts in the past. The narrator notes that their grandmother first made them, then she and her sister, and now Maggie, the narrator’s daughter, continues this tradition because she can sew quilts (Walker, 2020). Thus, quilts have symbolic importance in retaining the family heritage.
Crucially, quilts represent the symbolism of retaining African-American heritage and tradition due to their everyday use. While Dee, the narrator’s daughter, wants to hang them as decorative objects, Mrs. Johnson and Maggie believe that quilt’s actual value is when it is sewed and used for daily activities (Walker, 2020). Thus, in the border context of the story, how characters perceive quilts and value differently illustrates this clash in the understanding of African-American culture and identity.
As the story’s central symbol, quilts represent the importance of retaining family bonds and traditions because it preserves the history and reminiscences about ancestors and their daily activities. Most importantly, quilts play this crucial role precisely because of their everyday use rather than simply as art objects. Hence, quilts serve an essential symbolic function of an African-American family by being daily instruments and reminding of ancestral traditions and relationships.
Walker, A. (2020). Everyday use. Harper’s Magazine. Web.