Alice Walker, an American activist and writer, is well known for her novel The Color Purple. For this book, the author was awarded the National Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. Except for this book, Alice Walker has written many other works: essays, short stories, and poems. Her short story “Everyday Use” appeared in her collection In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women. In the book, the author uses the symbol of old quilts through which Alice Walker reveals the problem of children and parents, attitudes towards ancestors, and traditions.
The narrative tells the story of a mother who lives with her daughter Maggie. As a child, Maggie was traumatized in a house fire and became a physically unattractive and shy girl. They are anxiously awaiting the visit of Maggie’s sister Dee, for whom life has always been easy. As Dee arrived, she announced changing her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, which was painful for her mother. She also says that she wants to take two quilts that are of great importance to Mother and Maggie but not to Dee.
In the book, quilts show the bond between different generations in their family, as women usually make them at home. Quilts also have deep symbolic meaning as they depict the family’s history, culture, and traditions. In addition, as Mama and Aunt Dicie made the quilts, it also shows their united relationships, which are not so between Dee and Maggie, even though they are sisters. As Maggie is young, she does not recognize that the quilts have any symbolic context, and therefore she is ready to give them to Dee. In turn, Dee has a different opinion about the blankets: “Well,” I said, stumped. “What would you do with them?” “Hang them,” she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.” (Walker, 1973, p. 12). For Dee, legacy is a curiosity to look out for, something to put on display for others.
Dee’s feeling of superiority over her sister and mother and her new cultural identification are closely bound together. Ironically, Dee’s disrespect for her family members and other people who make up what Dee considers to be only an abstract “legacy” helped Maggie and her mother’s relationships become even closer. They live together and cherish their common heritage supporting each other.
Walker, A. (1973) Everyday use. Harper’s Magazine.