Here is my daughter's analysis of Everyday Use by Alice Walker.
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Heritage in Everyday Objects
Throughout the short story “Everyday Use” written by Alice Walker, heritage through tradition is shown as being important to the characters. However, it’s possible and advantageous to look at this story with more than the characters in mind; with thought and insight, this story can be interpreted as an analogy of the two main types of people when it comes to handling heritage and family heirlooms. Traditions and heritage are not only closely related, but also highly prioritized in many cultures. However, as the years go by, some traditions are lost and heritage isn’t passed down to the future generations. This doesn’t mean that family history simply isn’t valuable or relevant to our lives in today’s world. “Everyday Use” reminds readers that heritage is important.
The story “Everyday Use” is not only about a mother raising two drastically different daughters; there is a deeper meaning hiding between the pages. Heritage, tradition, and culture are so intertwined that it is often difficult to distinguish between them. However, Walker shows that although they are closely related, they can also be as different as the two sisters in the story were. By characterising Dee as being exuberant and Maggie as being practical, Walker has also personified the two major views when it comes to family heirlooms.
From the perspective of a person such as Dee, the quilts were meant to be looked at only from a distance and serve as a reminder of the history woven into them. For someone like Maggie, however, the quilts were meant to be used as intended and for the people using them to be affectionately reminded of their ancestors while enjoying the objects they made. For Maggie, it wasn’t just about the quilts. It was also about the personal memories she had of the quilt: the many hours helping her grandmother piece together and hand stitch the fabrics to create something more than just a bedspread.
For many other people too, it is not so much the piece itself, but the memories that come with the piece. This is why Maggie had no problem using the quilts as quilts instead of as decor. She cared more about what the quilts represented than the quilts themselves as shown in her statement, “She can have them, Mama … I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (pg. 303). This very idea appalled Dee as exemplified by her outburst when her mother suggested she take some of the other quilts, “But, they’re priceless! … Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be rags. Less than that!” (pg. 302). Dee was less sentimental and more worried about being able to pass on the quilts to future generations, and thus was more concerned about preserving the original artifacts.
It wasn’t just the quilts that Dee wanted to preserve -- she listed other items that she planned on taking back with her as well: “This churn top is what I need,” and “I want the dasher, too” (pg. 301). At first Maggie also seemed hesitant about these items also, most likely for the same sentimental reasons as the quilt. These items had been whittled by a family member, and by the way Maggie responds, it’s clear that her ancestors are the first thing that comes to her mind. She immediately states that, “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash … his name was Henry, but they called him Stash” (pg. 301). Her remark makes it evident that she sees value in the pieces because of the people who made them, not just because they are good pieces.
Although the two daughters have differing opinions, they each believe that their own view is right and they refuse to consider each other’s perspective. Dee is too stubborn and egotistical to think anything Maggie has to say or think could matter at all. Maggie, on the other hand, is very reserved and too passive to stand up for herself. The scene describing the girls’ exasperated mother snatching the quilts from Dee and giving them to Maggie is symbolic of the choice that must eventually be made one way or another with all heirloom and heritage pieces. Either they will get used, or they will sit still and become the “sacred” artifacts displayed in the family room.
Nevertheless, the importance of heritage is shown in “Everyday Use” by the different representations of the daughters; although they held their value in contrasting interpretations of the quilts (and other family heirloom pieces), both Dee and Maggie wished to carry on tradition. They refused to let the memories of their ancestors depart from them. It was important to them for different reasons, but the fact that there are different reasons suggests that heritage should be meaningful to people even in today’s world. A person’s heritage can be as simple as hearing stories about the past or as detailed as a collection of specific items handed down through each generation. No matter how one’s heritage is acquired or defined, it is relevant to future generations because it allows for pride within the family tree, relationships between family members, and the carrying on of culture from generation to generation.