Alice Walker’s Everyday Use gives his readers an intriguing comparison on how culture and heritage represented by quilt is seen peculiarly among the African-Americans. The theme of conflict between views of culture and heritage runs throughout the story. In the story, we find two different notions of culture and heritage must be observed. The simple and practical way is exemplified by Mother and Maggie while the sophisticated one is exhibited by Dee. We witness in the story that the quilt has become the major narrative and metaphor of the American cultural identity. Therefore, the quilt is an epitome of culture and heritage.
The views of the characters about the quilt make up their views on culture and heritage. On the face of it, the story may appear to be a story of choice of a Mother between the superficial and practical values as are exemplified by the traits of the two daughters Dee and Maggie respectively.
Nevertheless, the close analysis of the story reveals that plot is indeed a quest for the idea of heritage applicable to the African-Americans. In the beginning, the readers are introduced to two sisters namely Maggie and Dee and their mother. Though they are loving sisters but still their personalities are very distinct from each other and so are their views about life and heritage. Dee is a more popular one who aims to achieve higher and sophisticated goals while Maggie is a simple, timid and plain girl who is satisfied with herself spending her time at home.
Dee is depicted as materialistic, complex and modern woman. Her ideas of culture and heritage as represented by the quilt are completely dependent on the “trendy-ness.” Mother reveals the character of Maggie saying “ she used to read to us without pity, forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whose lives upon us two, sitting trapped under her voice…pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits we seemed to understand.”(Walker, 1994)
The character of Mother is simple and practical without an iota of complexities. The quilt stands for culture and heritage and she tends to value it for its functionality and personal sentiments. Maggie, on the other hand, is an anti-thesis of Dee. She appreciates her family history as evident by her love to quilt. Culture and heritage in the story are not shown to serve any subterranean motive or otherwise, they carry strong reasons for doing so. “You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. It's really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live you'd never know it."(Walker, 1994)
Dee fails to rationalize the reason as why her mother does not give her the quilt preferring Maggie instead for that matter. Her choice is her polite and somewhat approval of Maggie’s beliefs and views on heritage and culture.
Walker depicts the true and original essence of culture and heritage which are nowhere to be found in the objects or external appearance because they have much to do with the attitude and lifestyles of the persons. By bringing two sisters into opposition, she deftly accentuates the significance of the culture and heritage. The gist of the story is that the culture and heritage must be utilized, preserved, and practiced in “everyday use” to enliven the past.
Walker, Alice (1994) “Everyday Use” Rutgers University Press
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