February ninth 1944, it was a dark and stormy night... well maybe not. Regardless of the weather this is the date of Alice Walkers birth in Eatonton Georgia. Born to the sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Grant Walker, who had already been blessed (cursed) with seven children, Alice was their eighth and final bundle of joy.
She led a fairly normal life till she was eight years old and her elder brother accidentally (or was it? ) shot her in the eye with a BB gun. This unfortunate incident caused Alice to lose the use of one eye. An interesting by product of this event was that she ended up with one blue eye and one brown eye. An excellent student, Alice graduated valedictorian of her class and then in 1965 she graduated from the Sarah Lawrence collage for women with a Bachelor of Art degree.
During the 1960's Alice was deeply involved in the civil rights movement. In 1967 Alice married a white human rights lawyer, Mel Leventhal. In 1969 the happy, socially controversial couple were blessed with a daughter, whom they named Rebecca. A year later Alice published her first novel; she was twenty-six years old.
But alas, bliss does not last forever, she divorced in 1977. Although, this low point in her life did not keep her from writing. In 1983 she won the Puzzler Prize for her novel The Color Purple. Cultural heritage was important to Alice Walker. This is shown repeatedly through out her story Every Day Use. Much of Alice's own life and heritage can be seen in this excellent example of cultural pride and knowledge.
She illustrates quite well that objects cannot define ones culture nor heritage, only attitude, experience, and an understanding of the past can tell where a person comes from. Dee's interest in her heritage can only be described as a passing fad. Only the monetary value of the things she wishes to take mean anything to her. She does not have the skills to use the churn top nor make quilts, such as the ones Mama wishes to give to Maggie. Mama and Maggie have, cherish and use these skills every day, using their heritage. Dee does not see the practical uses of the churn top and the quilts; she sees dollar signs and a rise in social status.
She knows virtually nothing of the families past and doesn't really care. She rejects all the things that are her true heritage in favor of objects, icons that represent things she can not even begin to understand. She is not alone in this; most people who claim to know their heritage know very little. Heritage is not something learned, it is something done, something experienced. Heritage is not an old uniform someone's many-times-great-grandfather wore in the American revolution, it is uncle Mel telling stories about his boy hood, and the kids getting into trouble. It is Grandma making triple-chocolate fudge, kids playing in the yard and Grandpa working in the barn.
Heritage is cousin Vinny fixing cars and going to a strip bar afterwards with some old army buddies. Ones past is not ones heritage, it is ones on going present and the lessons taken from ones experiences. Dee despises the old house she grew up in, she is ashamed of the yard and of her mother and sisters way of living. She despises the skills that created the very things she wants. Ironic is it not? Mama and Maggie mean nothing to her. Dee claims to be the epitome of knowledge about her culture and heritage, yet she knows nothing, she rejects her past, her family, her own name even.
Wangaro is the "heritage" name she chooses, which is funny because Wangaro is a West African name, and her ancestors in all likely hood came east Africa. Mama's house and Alice Walker's childhood home have much in common. Both are in the Deep South, old full of history and not very classy. Dirt poor families struggling to get by.
'Tis nothing grand, but it is all they could want. Alice and Dee are both well educated, and yet it is Alice, Mama, and Maggie who know their heritage. Mama and Maggie are mostly uneducated, but education is not heritage, Mama and Maggie are living their heritage, and don't need a know-it-all professor to tell it to them, neither does Alice Walker.