Threads of Heritage: a Reflection on “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

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Updated: Oct 16, 2023
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The subtle interplay between the past and present finds a vivid depiction in Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use”. Walker effortlessly weaves a tapestry that explores the dynamics of heritage, identity, and family bonds through the lens of an African American family. This narrative, soaked with symbolisms and intricate character delineations, guides readers through a journey that goes beyond mere familial interactions, delving into deeper realms of cultural legacy and the varied interpretations it sprouts.

The story unfolds within the humble abode of Mama, the narrating character, and her daughter Maggie, where an expected visit from the elder daughter, Dee, creates a palpable tension that simmers throughout the narrative.

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While Maggie and Mama share a life deeply rooted in traditions and simplicity, Dee’s aspirations have propelled her into a world that starkly contrasts with her familial background. The distinctions among the family members serve as a canvas upon which Walker paints divergent approaches toward cultural heritage and identity. While the former choose to embody heritage as an intrinsic aspect of their daily lives, the latter seeks to encapsulate it in a tangible, almost exhibit-like manner.

Walker employs the quilt, a key symbolic element, to unravel complexities in navigating cultural and familial affiliations. The heirloom quilts, stitched together by the hands of ancestors, become a battlefield where conflicting perspectives on heritage collide. For Mama and Maggie, the quilts are living entities, embodying the spirit, struggles, and tales of their forebears, seamlessly interwoven into their everyday existence. Contrastingly, Dee perceives them as artifacts, objects to be preserved and displayed, removed from the ordinariness of daily use, which paradoxically, strips them of their intended purpose and utility. This incongruence in perspectives sparks a debate which is, by extension, a debate about the role of cultural heritage in one’s life. Should it be a relic, admired from afar, or an eternal flame, kept alive through continual practice?

However, this dichotomy is not merely a critique but a portrayal of the myriad ways individuals relate to their cultural lineage, especially within the African American community. For some, like Dee, distancing from the immediate, tangible aspects of heritage becomes a pathway to forge a distinct identity, albeit with a keen desire to honor one’s roots in a manner that befits contemporary contexts. This involves curating selective aspects of culture, somewhat detached from their original contexts, and intertwining them with new, modern identities. On the flip side, characters like Mama and Maggie symbolize a grounded, unembellished connection with heritage, where the past breathes through the present by means of practiced traditions and cherished objects of everyday use.

What Walker presents through “Everyday Use” is the nuanced and diverse nature of connecting with one’s heritage. While the story does lean into favoring a lived, unadulterated experience of cultural practices, it doesn’t entirely negate the validity of Dee’s perspective. The story nudges the readers to ponder – can there be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in how one chooses to honor their ancestry and heritage? Perhaps, Walker gently prompts us to realize that the threads of heritage are in perpetual motion, weaving through generations, each crafting their patterns, colors, and textures while honoring the same lineage. Thus, each individual, like a unique stitch, contributes to the expansive, continually evolving quilt of cultural heritage.

In summary, “Everyday Use” stands as a testament to Alice Walker’s profound ability to narrate deeply evocative tales that traverse the landscapes of heritage, identity, and familial bonds. Through the lens of a single family, Walker navigates the wide ocean of cultural discourse, encouraging readers to reflect on their tapestries, the myriad threads of their own heritage, and the varied patterns they choose to weave into its ever-expanding expanse.

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Threads of Heritage: A Reflection on "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker. (2023, Oct 16). Retrieved from