Heritage as a Cultural Aspect
Traditions have been around for decades. They all come in different styles and ways of practice. In some people eyes, they represent the heritage passed down from generation to generation such as objects of values, pieces of art or even handmade tools from an old member of the family. Traditions can also be defined as a cultural aspect. Some rituals are still around today and are very respected by certain people. Others start to disappear as years go by. In the short story Everyday Use written in 1973, the author Alice Walker illustrates the importance of family heritage. Walker’s short story demonstrates the life of a mother and her two daughters who are exposed to cultural aspects with different sets of minds regarding the heritage. The narrator of the story known as “Mama” is the mother of two daughters. She is both a mom and a dad to them. She is a strong woman who lives an old-fashioned life with one of her daughters Maggie in a village. She has done everything in her power to give her children the best life they can obtain. She and the village’s church raised money together to send her oldest daughter in town to study and further her education in college.
Based on Mama’s description of herself we can say that she has the appearance of a woman in a man’s body. She reveals that she is “a large big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands (Walker 655). Mama is a very straightforward person who says things exactly how they are. As readers, we can say that she enjoys working outside to fulfill her duties. Doing man-like jobs like breaking the ice, and killing hogs don’t bother her. She is a very motivating and hardworking individual who can do it all. However, when it comes to raising her daughters fairly, we can say that she fails to discipline both in the same manner. The two sisters each have their own definition of heritage. Only one of them sees it as valuable. That is the case of Maggie in this story. This young lady considers heritage to be everything and believes that it should be included in their daily activities as it was in their ancestors’ lives. Maggie is a very shy and reserved girl who is afraid to expose herself especially around a crowd. Her traumatism mainly comes from her injuries during the fire of their first house. She has burn scars on her body and is very insecure about herself. She struggles to appreciate and find herself beautiful because of her forever lasting scars from the fire. Her timidity makes her not confident enough which even shows when she walks. Her mom describes her walking as a “lame animal with shuffling movements who has her chin on her chest” (Walker). She lives a very simple life and is somehow disregarded compared to her older sister.
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Maggie wishes to be a little appreciated and considered like her sister. Regardless of that aspect, she seems very happy with the life that she is living next to her Mama. She understands the importance of their family’s quilt and would do anything to preserve it. However, her relationship with her sister has much more importance in her eyes and she would rather offer the quilt to her sister who seems more obsessed with it. Maggie would choose family over objects any day, unlike her sister. Mama’s oldest daughter, however, is very different from Maggie. Because she went to school and has a proper education unlike her sister and mom, Maggie’s sister known as Dee is very modernized. She somehow feels superior to everybody else because she received an education. At a young age, she demonstrates an interest in education through reading and writing. She is a very intelligent lady who later on got help from her village who raised the money for her education in town. Dee ,however, is not grateful towards her people. She has no appreciation for her family who plays a big role in her success. Since her access through college, she completely changes her lifestyle. She never even visited her home since she got to college. She feels ashamed of her roots and seems to forget where she comes from and how she got where she is now. She appears to be so embarrassed about her culture and people that she felt the need to change her name to Wangero. The turning point of the story focuses on Dee’s /Wangero’s return in her homeland. Mama is very excited to see her child again and was prepared in advance. When it comes to Maggie, she wasn’t very enthusiastic about it.
She would rather stand in the shadow behind her sister. Mama was a little disappointed when Dee comes in with a new different attitude starting by telling her that Dee doesn’t exist anymore and from now on her name is Wangero. She comes dressed with bright and shiny colors accompanied by a young man named Hakim-a-barber. Wangero’s visit has nothing to do with her wanting to visit her family. She is more interested in searching for objects that are part of her African inheritance that she can take back with her in the city. She tries to get mama by the emotions to get what she wants. she says “Oh Mama, I never knew how lovely these benches are. You can feel the rump prints…then she gave a sigh and her hand closed over grandma’s Dee butter dish and said “that’s it. I knew there was something I wanted to ask if I could have”. (Walker). Wangero shows a sudden interest in her heritage but still doesn’t see the values or importance of these items. She only sees them as pieces of art she can sell or decorate her house with. Her mother once offered her the quilt before she ran off for college. Dee refused to bring it with her now she comes back just to collect these objects that she might find useful for decorations.
Dee’s sweet behavior in front of Mama automatically changes when she told her that her intention is to offer the quilt to Maggie. Dee tries to dissuade her and tells her that “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use (Walker). Dee would say anything to convince her mother to offer her these items. She doesn’t seem to care much that she’s hurting her sister’s feeling. Dee wants what Dee wants and is very confident to collect them all given that her mother never refuses her anything. The quilt has an important meaning in the story. The author is trying to demonstrate how the quilt is represented in the family as an homage to their ancestors. “They had been pieced my Grandma Dee and Big Dee and me and hung them on the quilt frames …Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece about the size of a penny matchbox that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War. (Walker)”. The quilt consists of different types of clothing that are handmade by either their grandmother or Mama herself. Maggie and her mother share the same interest in the quilt and feel a strong connection between them thanks to the quilt.
They both understand the meaning behind the quilts. They represent a source of joy and a reminder of their identity as African-Americans. Dee doesn’t know much about her heritage. She never showed interest in her culture until now. Yet she only recognizes it to boost her fashion and use the quilts as accessories. As the story gets to its end, Mama realizes how selfish Dee is and decided to give the quilts to Maggie instead. Her reason for doing that is because she feels like Dee doesn’t fully understand the importance of family culture. Dee’s anger was so obvious that she couldn’t take it anymore she decided to leave immediately with Hakim-a-barber. At that point, Mama realizes that Dee’s visit has nothing to do with her being interested in her culture. She was more interested in collecting her family’s heritage for personal needs.
The author Walker illustrates different themes throughout the story. She demonstrates the theme of love in the story by showing her readers how passionate Maggie is when it comes to conserving her family’s heritage. Walker uses the quilts as a symbol of honor in regard to their past and respects for the heritage that their ancestors left them with. Walker uses Dee’s character to illustrate the theme of education. Walker believes that education can open up a lot of door for a person. In the example of Dee, she has received everything she always dreamed of having, gold earrings, fashion tools…Yet Dee doesn’t use her education to help others. She feels superior to everybody and shows it clearly when reading for her mom and sister to show them just how inferior they are. Going to school has changed Dee somehow. She considers herself a city girl and rejects her culture and even change her name to show her disinterest in where she comes from. This story is a great representative culture and how different people embrace it with different approaches each.