“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is a story of conflicting relations between mother and daughters. Nevertheless, this conflict is on the surface and if to look deeper it will become obvious that the real problem is the concept of cultural heritage as it is applied to African-American roots. In her story the author wants to show that cultural heritage should be essential and living part of every person and people should be proud of their cultural roots. To deny culture, for author, means to deny one’s identity.
It is necessary to underline that quilts are the symbols of traditions and cultural heritage. However, different attitudes towards quilts and heritage are presented in the story: on the one hand – Mama and Maggie with traditional values and on the other hand Dee with her idea to create new heritage. Quilts are symbolic bond between generations representing memory and family ties. Dee and Maggie are absolutely different in appearance and, moreover, their ideas about cultural heritage differ dramatically as well.
Maggie and Dee have different ideas and views on cultural heritage and family roots. As it is mentioned above, Dee tries to deny her African roots, whereas Maggie feels proud of her cultural identity. Dee thinks that she would succeed in her personal life and career only if she denies her African roots. In contrast to Dee, Maggie is shown to have traditional values and she thinks it is necessary to preserve family traditions, beliefs and values. For example, Maggie is proud of family quilts as they are very useful. Moreover, Maggie’s grandmother teaches her to quilt.
Maggie is proud that her mother saves the quilts and will present her after she is married. Dee isn’t interested in quilts at the beginning, whereas Maggie views quilts as reminder of her aunt and grandmother. Maggie says: “I can ‘member them without quilts”. Nevertheless, Dee also values quilts and thinks they are priceless and they should be displayed, but in her heart she hates her cultural heritage. She decides to collect her own heritage instead. Before she goes off to college, she says that quilts aren’t good as they “are old-fashioned and out of style”.
Nevertheless, than she changes her minds and wants these quilts to be displayed at her home. Actually, Dee wants to prove that she can appreciate these quilts more than Maggie can, but Maggie needs than for spiritual reasons, whereas Dee’s reasons are surely materialistic – quilts are priceless and they symbolize material success and prosperity. Actually, I support Maggie’s view on quilts as they are insupportable part of cultural heritage and they shouldn’t be viewed as the sign of material success.
Quilts, their origin and their history are the memory of the family: “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece . . . that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War…”. The quilts don’t simply represent the family; moreover, they are integral part of Mama and Maggie. And only desire to be always on top drives Dee to get these quilts, whereas Maggie does really appreciate their cultural value.
Maggie thinks that quilts should be used in everyday life as they are meant for it, whereas Dee argues that shouldn’t be put to everyday use. For Maggie, quilts refer to personal emotions, whereas Dee views them as financial stability and aesthetics. Maggie realizes that quilts are active process meaning that heritage should be transferred from one generation to another. Sisters’ views on quilts are two different approaches and attitudes towards culture and heritage. The story shows that heritage can be used both for materialistic and aesthetic purposes, as well as for emotional and personal ones.
The author wants to shows that emotional side should be the priority and to prove that she shows that it is Maggie who receives the quilts. Heritage should be alive – literally in the case of quilts. I think quilts are used to shows that cultural heritage remains what it means only it it remains connected to original cultural roots.
Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Literature- An Introduction to Reading and Writing 5th ed. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.