Christian Cartwright Mr. Epley English 200 24 March 2013 Heritage in Walker’s “Everyday Use” In the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, there are many themes and motifs presented throughout the plot. The major theme of heritage is present throughout the story. Walker shows the importance of heritage through her extensive use of irony. For example, Dee changes her name to Wangero to reflect the new fad of “getting in touch with African heritage. ” This fad of name changing came with the reoccurrence of the Back to Africa movement spawning out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Blacks gained their pride and freedom back after the fall of Jim Crowe and moved into the era of the black nationalists and the nation of Islam led by leaders such as Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X. This national movement going on in the black community reflected Dee and Hakim’s yearning to find their “true heritage. ” However, the name Dee already has comes from her heritage. As Mama says, “You know as well as me you was named after your aunt Dicie. Dicie is my sister. She named you Dee. Dee has the education to understand the history of her people, but the irony is that she is missing the people standing right in front of her. Name changing rejected any ties to the families who once owned hem as slaves, often times referring to their birth names as “slave names. ” Dee’s name carried her family heritage because it once was the name her aunt had. She just doesn’t get it that Mama and Maggie are the most important parts of her heritage. This is at least a little ironic.
Even Hakim-a-barber has converted to Islam but chooses only to accept certain doctrines of this religion and the black power movement when he refuses to eat collard greens and pork. As he says, “I accept some of their doctrines, but farming and raising cattle is not my style. ” The irony is that it may not be the “style” of Mama and Maggie either; it is their way of life and livelihood. They would never even think about this in terms of style. In the story, it talks about how Dee was able to go to school through the help of the local church while Maggie stayed at home with Mama. Mama first escribes Maggie’s nature by saying “Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe. ” This denial of American heritage is evident in Dee’s lack of interaction with Maggie. Dee does not even speak to Maggie until she is angrily leaving the house at the end of the story. Maggie’s scars are symbolic of the scars that all African-Americans carry as a result of the “fire” of slavery. The church in the Black community plays a major role in every family.
All the concerns of the town or family are brought to the church as support for one another. In Mama’s case, the church helped Dee pay for college. Dee’s heritage comes from the people who have paved the way for her: the church, Mama, Maggie and the other strong women in her family. The chief conflict of heritage is between Mama, Maggie and Dee. Dee arrives home to photograph her dirt-poor beginnings never stopping to think how Maggie and Mama feel. Mama relates, “She wrote me once that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us. Mama is pointing out that Dee sees herself as belonging to a higher intellectual and social class than Mama and Maggie, and they should feel honored by (and humiliated in) her presence. The butter churn to Dee is an object of art; to Mama it is a way to live and make butter. When Mama takes the dasher handle in her hands, she is symbolically touching the hands of all those who used it before her. Dee has always been pampered and spoiled by her Mama, who has been afraid to stand up to her. She does not understand how her mother and Maggie can continue to live in such a backwards way.
By giving the quilt to Maggie, Mama shows that she understands the importance of heritage. To appreciate and use objects passed on in families is completely different than to hang them on display while they are popular and worth money, then throw them away. Dee has become educated and much too sophisticated for her humble beginnings. When Dee asks for a beautiful family heirloom quilt to hang on her wall, Mama finally denies her something. Instead, Mama will give Maggie the quilt to keep her and her husband warm. The quilts are the chief symbols, and they stand for the ties of heritage/family.
What would Dee do with the quilts? “‘Hang them,’ she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with them” Dee says that Maggie cannot understand her heritage and cannot appreciate these quilts, but she does when she “can ‘member Grandma Dee with the quilts. ” Selflessly, Maggie agrees that Dee can have them so as not to start a conflict. She says, “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts. ” Maggie is appreciating her heritage every time she uses them, with heritage meaning the people she came from. Dee thinks that connecting with a person’s roots is a new thing.
The Aunt Dee was named after made these quilts by hand, and yet, that has nothing to do with the reason why she wants them. In addition, Dee thinks her name is a symbol of those who oppressed her, so she comes up with a new name that has nothing to do with her family ties. Obviously the theme of the importance of heritage is shown in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use. ” While Maggie and Mama may be uneducated and “backwards,” they do understand the meaning of family heritage. Dee has all the education and sophistication of the world, and she just plain “doesn’t get it.