Everyday Use Essay

Everyday Use Term paper

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Cultural Conflict in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker Identifying with one s culture is a vital part of everyone s life. Alice Walker addresses this issue in Everyday Use . Through careful descriptions of the characters and setting in her story, Walker confronts the question of what the true value is of one s heritage and culture. In the conflict between Dee and her mother, Walker shows that one s culture and heritage is not represented by possession of objects or external appearances, but by one s attitude toward their culture. In "Everyday Use", Walker personifies the different sides of culture and heritage in the characters of Dee (Wangero), Maggie, and their mother. Dee can be seen to represent a materialistic, complex, and modern way of life where culture and heritage are to be valued only for their aesthetic appeal. The mother on the other hand, represents a content, simple, and practical way of life where culture and heritage are valued both for its usefulness as well as its personal significance. The first clues to about these two sides are found just by looking at Walker s physical descriptions of the characters. Mama, the narrator of the story, describes herself as "a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands" with fat that can keep her "hot in zero weather"(325). She also describes how she "can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man"(325). None of these things are particularly glamorous, but it is Walker s intention to show that through her heritage, the mother could do all the things her predecessors could. Maggie, the daughter at home, is presented in a similar way. Like her mother, she is not physically attractive or stylish. Her body is covered with burn scars and her walking is described like that of a lame dog (324). Maggie is as homely as Dee is pretty. But Maggie, like her mother, has many things that Dee does not. Maggie actually knows the family history and like mother, possesses skills that have been passed down through the family. In one part of the story, when the family is discussing the origin of the dasher, it is Maggie who knows where it comes from "Aunt Dee s first husband whittled the dash...His name was Henry, but they called him Stash." (329). Later, mother remarks, "It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her [Maggie] how to quilt herself" (330). Dee, on the other hand, is described as being light skinned, with nice hair and a full figure (325). When Dee first comes to visit the family, she s wearing a long dress, even though the weather is very hot. This implies that Dee is more occupied with aesthetic appearances rather than practicality. The dress is also gaudy, colored with enough yellow and orange "to throw back the light of the sun"(327). Dee is also wearing numerous pieces of jewelry, earrings and bracelets. Even more than Walker s description of Dee is the significance of Dee s "name change" to Wangero that seems to symbolize Dee s attitude about her culture and heritage. It seems to reflect a sort of flashy, artificial pretense put on in order to feign sophistication. Dee disregards the importance of her name, the fact that she was named after her aunt Dicie. "You know as well as me you was named after your aunt Dicie"(328). And when asked about why she changed her name, Dee can only spout a clich answer. "I couldn t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me"(328). Another important detail is Dee s reply when asked, What happened to Dee ? "She s dead..." is her answer (328). This insinuates that Dee has distanced herself even further from her family, heritage, and culture despite her claims of being closer to them. The actions and speech of the characters also further define their representative roles in the story. Dee is portrayed as aggressive, to the point of total lack of regard for her family. When she first greets her family, she starts snapping pictures of the house and her mother before even greeting them with a kiss or a hug, or even a handshake. Later, when they re in the house, Dee begins just taking various items for herself, before even asking permission from her mother. Shortly after arriving, Dee goes for the quilts. This seems to be the main point of her visit because when her mother says that she can t have them, she leaves almost immediately. It is Dee s attitude that is the irony and focal point of the entire story. Despite all of Dee s worldliness and education, she neither knows nor values her real culture and heritage. Walker shows in the story that culture is neither name changes or speaking a foreign tongue, bright dresses or different hair. One s culture and heritage is not something to be adopted just for the sake of a trend, to be used as conveniently as one would wear clothing. Culture and heritage are taught, from one generation to the next, not suddenly picked up like an antique found in a pawnshop. A person who truly understands their heritage and culture makes use of it every day of their life.

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