Everyday Use Essay, Research Paper
Kelley Ray 08-06-2000
Portrayal of the family members in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” illustrates the mistake by some people of placing the significance of heritage solely in material objects. Mama and Maggie are presented as how heritage is passed on from one generation to another through learning and experience. Dee represents a misconception of heritage as material. During her visit, Dee misplaces the value of heritage in her desire for racial heritage.
Mama and Maggie represent the connection between generation and heritage that passed between them. The family dwelling is a structue lacking character. Mama is a big boned woman who takes care of the home, “I am a large big-boned woman with rough, man working hands” (1152). Maggie is the daughter who helps Mama in the yard and around the house.. Neither Mama nor Maggie are educated,” I never had an education myself. After second grade. After the second grade the school was closed. Maggie reads to me. She stumbles along good-naturedly” (1153). However by helping her mother she uses the hand-made items in her life, experiences of the life of her ancestors, and learns the history of both.
Contrasting with Mama and Maggie, Dee seeks her without undertanding the heritage itself. Unlike Mama who is rough and man-like, and Maggie who is shy and scared, Dee is confident,” determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts” (1153) she is beautiful and dresses eloquently. Also she has a higher education having being sent “to school in Augusta” (1153). She attempts to connect with her heritage by taking pictues of the house with the family in the picture. She also takes some of the handmade items of her mother’s such as the churn top which she will use ” as a centerpiece for the alcove table” (1156). She associates these things with heritage now, but thought nothing of them while growing up. Dee’s desire for heritage is material, wishing to have these various items in order to display for her home and so-called friends. Dee wants to have these things because she percieves each to have value as she does with the quilts.
The desire of the quilts by Dee goes against the belief of the quilts that Mama has. Dee considers the quilts priceless because they are hand stitched and not done by machine. Dee plans to “hang them” (1157) or display the quilts whereas Maggie “may put them to everyday use” (1157). Mama promised the quilts to Maggie as possibly a wedding gift “for when she marries John Thomas” (1157). Mama knows that through passing the quilts on to Maggie there exists a connection of heritage. She knows that it was “Grandma Dee and Big Dee that taught Maggie how to quilt” (1157) and by giving these quilts to Maggie the tradition will probably continue.
Dee believes heritage to be the quilt on the wall or the churn in the alcove. Dee knows the items are hand-made but not the knowledge and history behind the items. Yet, Mama and Maggie know the tradition and history. Ironically, Dee criticizes Mama for not understanding heritage when, in fact, Dee fails to realize her heritage. She mistakenly places heritage in what she owns and not what she knows. Although her struggle to move beyond the limited world of her youth is positive, she has not yet arrived at a stage of self-understanding.