Everyday Use

Essay by shabby_7College, UndergraduateA+, July 2004

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The short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker illustrates the two different concepts of culture and heritage in the characters of Dee and Maggie. In this story, Dee understands the valued culture and heritage as an artistic appeal. However, Maggie represents a simple, content way of life where culture and heritage are personal significance.

In this story, Dee, who renamed herself Wangero Leewanika Kemajo, refuses to be called Dee. She says, "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me." This shows that Dee is ashamed of her heritage. Even though her mother points out that Dee is named after her aunt, who was named after her grandmother, she does not appreciate the name. Although Wangero is an African name, it does not relate to her heritage as well as it has not been passed down nor does it has symbolize anything related to her family

Dee's confusion about the meaning of heritage also appears in her reaction towards the household items.

While she rejects the name of her ancestor, she values the handmade benches made by her father as a piece of art. She says," I never knew how lovely these benches are. You can feel the rump prints." Her admiration for the benches, butter churn and the dasher now seems to reflect a cultural trend toward valuing handmade objects rather than any interest in her heritage.

Wangero tells her mother that Maggie does not understand their heritage because Maggie would use the quilts, a priceless antique, for "everyday use". But when her mother asks Wangero what is her plan with the quilts, she says, "hang them". This implies that the value of the quilts is simply for a display. Her mother remembers in the past that she had offered a...