A Voice from a Heritage "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker The short story "Everyday Use", written by a Black American author, Alice Walker portrays contrasting characteristics and attitudes of the characters - Dee and Maggie- to show her views on the way an individual understands heritage. On a deeper level, Walker used her characterization of Maggie and Dee in the story to present her concept of heritage as it applies to the African Americans. The concept on how Black Americans deal with their heritage. The story was published in the time where Black Americans were in search of their cultural roots and identity- the decade of the 60's and the 70's.
They were ready to reject their American Heritage and seek for their African roots. By this time, Walker criticized and challenged them somehow in their views through her characters in the story. It is important to acknowledge that Walker is not condemning them about their search of their culture. Rather, she challenged them in a part of their beliefs to show respect for those African Americans who endured the pain to survive during hostile time for the blacks before.
Walker used Mama's point of view to describe the contrasting character of the two sisters. She describes herself as a woman who can do man-skilled jobs and enjoyed a rugged farming life. The story started as Mama and Maggie awaited for the visitation of Dee. Using Dee's character, Walker presented the strong black woman in their era who had an education and adopted the recent cultural trends and the changes of the environment.
They spoke loud about their demands and aggressively fought for it. Portrayed by the character, The fashionable educated Dee is describe as a will powered woman and has high standards of demand. Mama describes her: " She would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature" (121) and "at sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what the style was' (122). She has self-confidence and wits to show the people. In contrast, the shy- natured Maggie is not bright, not classy and not beautiful because of her scars.
Mama describes her like a lame animal run over by an old car: "She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on the ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground" (121). Mama's descriptions commemorate the attitudes of the black women before and after the war. They were the women who would just nod their heads for yes or no answers from the supreme power of the non-slaves. They remained in corners and acted oppositely to the will-powered women. Similar to the story, the two sisters were raised in the same family. They developed different perspectives and attitudes towards life.
This contrasting attitude made a gap between Dee and Maggie that portrays the denial of black Americans to their American heritage and the pursuit to look for their African heritage. This denial of American heritage is evident when Dee keeps on discrediting Maggie's words while they were trying to know who whittled the old dasher of their ancestors. Dee even says that her brain is like an elephant until she finally talked to her in just whisper when she left the house. As Walker characterized the two sisters, she illustrates the confusion on how people viewed heritage through Dee's and Maggie's views. Dee was in search of her cultural identity and solidarity in relation to her Ancestors, but she was confused on her superficial ideas on heritage. This is the insight on heritage as a property that simply descends to an heir.
When Dee arrives for a visit, Mama saw her dress so bright in colors that irritated her eyes. Her jewelries are gold which dangles on her body and her hair is braided differently (123). Here, Dee's character showed the confusion in understanding the importance of heritage. She refused to be called Dee again for she's reminded of the people who oppress her". 'No, Mama's he says. 'Not Dee,' Wang ero Leewanika Kemanjo!" ' (123).
She adopted this new African name, but she doesn't even know the real source of the name. In addition, she embraced new style of fashion as what she believed the way to celebrate her African roots. She refused to be called Dee because as what she says: "I couldn't bear it any longer, being name after the people who oppress me " (123). Her ignorance in her newly found culture made her equally confused to her understanding of her heritage. As she tries to celebrate her newly found culture, she failed to understand that the name "Dee" was used by her Ancestors.
She doesn't have any clue that the name Dee can be traced by her mama far back in the time of the civil war. She was unaware of her name used by her ancestors which is part of their American Heritage. Similarly, some Black Americans changed their name in Walker's time. They had exchanged the name given by their parents to names that didn't really gave a significant part of their culture for they didn't know the real historical background of it. Aside from changing Dee's name, her views on the dasher churn, the benches and the quilts increased her ignorance in understanding her heritage. After they ate dinner, Dee's mind focuses on these valuable items".
'I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table,' she said, sliding a plate over the churn, 'and I'll think of something artistic to with the dasher' " (125). Showing her superficial ideas about the antiques, she decided to take them all because of what she believes are precious artifacts, yet she doesn't know the historical value of them. She only values the object as aesthetic artifacts that were created from the past generation. It doesn't come to her senses that these, too are the symbol of oppression like what she believe the name "Dee" means. Her families great ancestors made these materials for they couldn't afford to buy one. She doesn't even know exactly who made the antiques when Hakim-a-barber -her companion- asked about the dasher.
Also, she rejected the quilts in the first place before she went to college because they were not in fashion. On the other hand, Maggie knows not simply the object itself, but the historical background, too. The story presented her knowledge with this excerpt: " Aunt Dee's first husband whittled the dash", said Maggie so low you almost couldn't hear her. His name was Henry but they called him Stash" (125). Walker's view here in all these matters is to open the Black Americans mind about searching their heritage and rejecting what they already have. Part of the future is the past.
They need to have both heritages - African and American heritage. The people tend to reject the oppression and shame of the past, but what Walker says here is not all part of heritage are pleasant. There's a part of hardship, too. Sufferings are part of our heritage that will eventually make an individual grow even stronger. Walker showed this through the burn scars of Maggie from the fire accident ten or twelve years ago. This scar represents the pain and sufferings of many black slaves happened in the time of Civil War like the pain of Maggie caused by the scars.
Her mother describes that "Maggie will be nervous after her sister goes: she will stand in corners and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe" (120). Maggie's understanding about her heritage was illustrated in the argument about the Quilts. Dee argued that she needs to have the quilts and defended that Maggie would probably use the quilts for 'everyday use" unlike her. She would hang them on the wall. Maggie can live without the object but the historical value is in her heart.
She told Mama to give the quilts to Dee because " I can 'member Grandma Dee without quilts" (126). Walker describes that the American heritage of Black Americans is not just the material importance handed to the next generation; It's not just the tangible part of it. The legacy that we inherited from our ancestors is the most valuable of all. It can't be taken away. This Conflict between Maggie and Dee on who's going to have the quilts is the climax of the story. Furthermore, Walker used her characters again in response to the quilts symbolical meaning of heritage.
She used the quilt as a metaphor to represent the legacy that African Americans inherited from their forefathers. In early years, the women expressed their creativity in quilting used threads. The process of quilting is the heritage that handed down from generation to generation. The story describes that the quilts contained the same bits of fabric from the two generation including the scrap from the uniform of Grandpa Ezra, their great grandfather, had worn. Maggie will use the quilts and will continue to make some more. The practiced of quilting is the true inheritance for her.
Though she's not bright her interpretation of heritage is not shallow unlike Dee who consider the quilt valuable, but her admiration towards them seems to reflect her cultural trend of valuing the handmade objects. Walker illustrated a dilemma for Mama on whether to choose Maggie who will put the quilts on "everyday use", or to choose Dee who would hang them on the wall and preserve. This is similar to Walkers argument for the Blacks. She's challenging them on whether the Black Americans will continue their lives facing the future carrying their American heritage or not.
As Maggie was ready to give up the quilts mama sees her and come to a realization and says: When I looked at her like that something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet. Just like when I'm in church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout (126). For the first time, she rejected Dee and snatched the quilts from her and put it on Maggie's lap. In Maggie's hands, she sees the heritage that she would not be ashamed of, but to be proud of. Alice Walker challenges the Black Americans by giving them the insight whether to choose to live with or without their American heritage. She let us know that each have their own choices in life to cherish, but behind that life is heritages from the past.
It's embark in our being even if we change in response to the fast changing world. Her purpose is for us to show respect to our heritage and give our American Heritage the proper acknowledgement as part of our History. Work cited.