Perspective on Heritage in “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

Alice Walker uses her narrative perspective as a mother portraying her oldest daughter, Dee, as an arrogant, selfish, and superior-minded young woman who is focused on the idea of preserving her heritage. This judgment can be supported by her behavior throughout the narrative. According to her mother, “Dee wanted nice things” (346). For instance, during her visit to the childhood home where her mother and sister still reside, she demonstrates her arrogance by requesting the handmade relics from her family without considering the desires of others. Disregarding the fact that her mother may still use the churn top, she states, “The churn top is what I need” (349). Her self-entitled attitude remains as she rummages through the chests in her mother’s room, asking if she can have the quilts hand-stitched by some of the women in the family. Dee seems to be offended when her mother tells her that the quilts are for Maggie. “Maggie can’t appreciate these as quilts,” she exclaims, “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (351). The main issue, thus, is her perspective on honoring one’s heritage. Dee believes saving these keepsakes instead of using them for intended purposes is a better way to honor the family’s heritage.

Still, she wants these items to be displayed as art in her own home to show her appreciation for her heritage. It can be said that her desire to have these items can be perceived as the opportunity to have a piece of the family at home because Dee really loves her family and enjoys spending time with them, and it displays her ignorance. As everyone has different views on such personal subjects as loyalty to one’s family, Dee’s behavior can be perceived as not selfish but curious. She wants to explore her heritage with the help of these handmade relics in particular.

As the critic, Cowart explains, “In her name, her clothes, hair, sunglasses, patronizing speech, and black Muslim companion, Wangero proclaims a deplorable degree of alienation from her rural origins and family.” I agree with this opinion: Dee does not realize that her bossy, know-it-all attitude shows nothing more than disrespect to both her mother and sister and her true lineage. Although most people agree on the meaning of loyalty to one’s family and holding value to them, Dee shows a lack of understanding in knowing that respecting her immediate family is part of demonstrating honor to her heritage. When leaving, she tells her sister: “It’s really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live, you’d never know it” (352). Contrary to Dee’s belief, her mother and sister live closer than her to the family’s heritage by continuing the everyday way of life they have always known (cooking, cleaning, hand-making things they need) and respecting one another.

In summary, every human being has a different opinion about what respecting one’s culture looks like. But it is safe to say that the very minimum of actions that need to be considered when determining what is right and wrong when honoring one’s culture is that we must show care, appreciation, and literal respect to the people in our family as of now, not only the family members who have passed on and are no longer with us.

Works Cited

Cowart, David. “Heritage and Deracination in Walker’s Everyday Use.’.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 33, no. 2, Spring 1996, p. 171. EBSCOhost, Web.

Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Portable Literature: Ninth Edition. Laurie Kirszner & Stephen Mandell. (Boston, USA: 2018), pp. 344-352.

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