Many times an author draws from his or her personal life and incorporates his or her past into the short story. Alice Walker is one of the most respected, well-known African-American authors of her time. Alice Walker experienced a lifetime of hardship that would influence her later works, helping her to become such an astonishing author. In her short story 'Everyday Use', Walker tells the story of her heritage and enables the reader to encounter the values in her life.
On February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, Willie Lee and Minnie Grant gave birth to their eighth child; a precious little girl whom they named Alice. As an extremely intelligent child Alice was always exploring the world around her. 'She said that one of her favorite pastimes in the world was 'people watching.' ' (web 1. html). When Walker was eight years old, she and her brother were playing a game of cowboys and Indians outside when Alice's brother accidentally hit her in the eye with a BB pellet, blinding her in her right eye. Although that didn't stop Alice, she went on achieving excellent grades and going on to college.
She first attended Spelman College (an African-American institution) on a handicap scholarship she'd been granted. Unhappy with the way Spelman's treated her for her involvement of activism and civil rights, she accepted a scholarship from Saint Lawrence College in New York. Alice was faced with great difficulties such as abortion and suicide, but she pulled through and graduated in 1965 kicking off the begging of an unforgettable and ongoing career. (web 1. html) By distinguishing the family-oriented round characters in the short story 'Everyday Use', Alice Walker illustrates the common mistake of placing the association of heritage solely in material objects. Walker presents Mama and Maggie, the younger daughter, as an example that heritage in both knowledge and form passes from one generation to another through a learning and experience connection.
However, by a broken connection, Dee, the older daughter, represents a misconception of heritage as materialistic. During Dee's visit to Mama and Maggie, the contrast of the characters becomes the conflict, because Dee misplaces the significance of heritage in her desire for racial heritage. Mama and Maggie symbolize the connection between generations and the heritage that passed between them. Mama and Maggie continue to live together in their humble home. Mama is a robust woman, who does the needed upkeep of the land as Walker states 'I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands.' (Walker, 87) Maggie is the younger of the two daughters, 'homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs,' (Walker, 86) helping out her Mama by making 'the yard so clean and wavy' (Walker, 86).
Neither Mama nor Maggie are 'modernly' educated people; 'I [Mama] never had an education myself. Sometimes Maggie reads to me. She stumbles along good-naturedly She knows she is not bright' (Walker, 88). However, by helping Mama, Maggie put the hand-made items in her life to everyday use, experiencing the life of her ancestors, while learning about her family's history. All of which her materialistic sister does not and will never possess. Contrasting through Mama and Maggie, Dee seeks her heritage without understanding the heritage itself.
Unlike Mama who is rough and man-like and Maggie who is shy and scared, Dee is confident, where 'Hesitation is no part of her nature', and she is 'lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure.' with a modernized education. (Walker, 87) Dee attempts to connect with her racial heritage by taking 'picture after picture of me sitting there in front of the house with Maggie She never takes a shot without making sure the house is included' (Walker, 88). Dee acquires another name without the understanding or meaning of her original name; nor does she attempt to learn. Dee also seizes some of the hand-made items her mother uses around the house; such as the churn top, which Dee will use 'as a centerpiece for the alcove table' (Walker, 90). Dee's quest of her heritage is external; wishing to have this assortment of items in order to display them in her home. Dee wants the items (for display) because she perceives each to have value, as shown in the dialog between Dee and Mama about the quilts after dinner.
Dee's assessment of the quilt completely conflicts with Mama's perception of the quilts. Dee considers the quilt (s) priceless because the quilt (s) is hand-made and to Dee it portrays her heritage. Dee states, 'There are all pieces of dresses Grandma used to wear. She did all this stitching by hand. Imagine!' (Walker, 91) Dee plans to display the quilts, unlike Maggie who may 'put them to everyday use' (Walker, 91). However, Mama 'promised to give them quilts to Maggie, for when she marries ' (Walker, 91).
Mrs. Johnson can see the connection of the family heritage in Maggie; for 'It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught [Maggie] how to quilt' (Walker, 91). Due to the realization of Maggie's and Mama's connection to family values, Mama takes the quilts from Dee who 'held the quilts securely in her arms, stroking them clutching them closely to her bosom' (Walker, 91) like sacred representation, and then gives them to their rightful owner: Maggie. After Mama gives Maggie the quilts, Dee says, 'You just don't understand,' 'Your heritage' (Walker, 91). Dee believes heritage and family values to be materialistic things. Dee understands that the quilts were hand-made, but she lacks the knowledge and history behind these quilts.
On the other hand Mama and Maggie understand the meaning of the quilts and know that they were made for everyday use. Ironically, Dee criticizes Mama for not understanding heritage when, in fact, Dee fails to really understand her own heritage. Dee mistakenly places heritage wholly in what she owns, not what she knows. Work-Cited Living By Grace.
Danielle, Chris. 1999. Tripod. 03-10-2005. web Alice. 'Everyday Use'.
Literature An Introduction to Reading and Writing Sixth Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs.
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. , 2001, 360-365.