Heritage Daily

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate August 2001

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"Everyday Use" is Alice Walker's attempt to confront the contrasting views of African American heritage held by blacks themselves. In the story, the narrator, mother of the family, struggles over a conflict between her own cultural values and those in contrast held by her eldest daughter, Dee. While Dee seeks to honor African American heritage through materialistic preservation of family "antiques", Mama and her youngest daughter, Maggie, preserve this heritage through the daily use of these "antiques" and daily exercise of traditions.

Alice Walker uses differing strategies with each character to contrast their various values of heritage. Mama's and Maggie's perspectives are shown through their daily practices, and Maggie's, more so, through her knowledge and appreciation of family history. Dee's perspectives are shown through her appearance, actions, and desires for material symbols. From Dee's first physical appearance in the story it is clear that she is a symbol of the popular black culture of her time.

In respect to the time setting of the seventies, her bright dress, gold earrings, and "afro" hairstyle are virtually fashion clichés. Here, the author suggests that Dee values material exhibition of her concern for heritage. Dee's first actions that prove her concern with exhibiting her heritage is when she takes Polaroid snapshots of her family standing in front of their little house, as if to capture some historical scenery to be displayed in its original state forever. In contrast, Mama and Maggie choose to live in this house. They take care of it, raking the dust of the front yard into different patterns everyday. This contrast shows that Dee would rather leave the culture as is, to be viewed as art later, than live the culture from day to day and contribute to its changes.

At the dinner table in her...