Every Day Use Essay, Research Paper
In the story “Everyday Use”, by Alice Walker, the value of ones culture and heritage are defined as a part of life that should not be looked upon as history but as a living existence of the past. Walker writes of the conflict between two Black cultures. Dee and Maggie are sisters whom do not share the same ideals. Mama is torn between two children with different perspectives of what life truly means. In the story, Walker describes the trial and tribulations of one daughter whose whole life is tormented by fear, failure and weakness; while the other “…has held life always in the palm of one hand…”(61) and moves to a better lifestyle. The possessions of the past will ultimately change the relationships of the future.
“Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe.”(61) She is afraid of being weak and unable to project her happiness with the life she has chosen. Maggie attempts to remain quiet and reserved during the visit of her sister. The difference of their lifestyle interpretations is one of humble to extravagant. Unlike other young women, Maggie continues to live in an un-educated world where happiness is formed in the heart, not with possessions.
Dee, (Wangero) is a self – centered young woman who “manages” to come for a visit. Unlike Maggie, she is not living her culture or heritage. She has risen from poverty and misfortune to be one of the successful black women. The change of her name signifies her conscience effort to remove the past from her life. However, in an attempt to salvage her culture and heritage she tries to take numerous items from the home as “souvenirs” of her past. The butter churn top, dasher, and the quilts are used everyday. However, Dee needs and wants these items to decorate her home.
The resistance of Mama to allow Dee to take the quilts creates an image of self-awareness. Mama perceives Dee as a dream in her life. One of her greatest fears is to loose her daughter who has encountered and grasped the culture and heritage passed on through living. “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! She’d probably be backwards enough to put them to every day use.”(61) Maggie is more deserving of the quilts, as she will use them. To allow Dee to take them, as decoration, would destroy the relationship that Maggie and Mama have developed over the years. “They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them.”(65) The quilts represent the past, present and future for Maggie.
The fear of loosing the culture and heritage leads Dee back home. The possessions that she asks for are a small way to regain a portion of life she has forgotten. Dee does not accept the lifestyle that Mama and Maggie are living. “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.”(66) The value that one places on life should not be looked upon as history, but as a living existence of the past. Mama and Maggie continue to use all of the mementos of the past to live an every day life. It is a simple life with simple pleasures. Dee might never “manage” to come home again. The possessions of the past ultimately will change the relationships of the future.