In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, tradition and culture play a big part in the story’s theme; tradition and culture also play a big part in Sherman Alexie’s “This Is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona. ” The effects that culture and tradition had in “Everyday Use” were similar to Sherman Alexie’s story but the ways that they were displayed were not the same. In many ways, “Everyday Use” showed the effect that culture had on its’ characters mainly Dee. Through the stories Thomas-Builds-the-Fire tells, tradition and culture have a similar effect on Victor.
Both Dee and Victor were affected negatively by their surroundings. Whether it’s Dee becoming her own person or Victor struggling to find his identity, culture and tradition have huge roles in each story. As a reader, tradition and culture stood out as key components in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”. From the first page on, these two components made “Everyday Use” the story that it was. For example, the narrator explains that “In real life I’m a large, big-boned woman with rough, man working hands. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man” (590).
This quote explained how much of a hard working woman the narrator was and it explained the type of culture she lived in because only rural families kill and clean hogs. It showed how the narrator took pride in what she could do which was part of her own culture. Tradition in “Everyday Use” was symbolized by the family’s quilt. This quilt stood for so much because there were pieces of clothing on it from all of the family members of past generations. For example, “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more ago.
Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts” (594-595). The tradition of this quilt meant a lot to the family. The quilt was meant to be put to “everyday use” which was a portion of the quilt’s tradition. These were some of the reasons why Dee wasn’t able to have the quilt. Not only did tradition and culture play a huge role in “Everyday Use”, it also had an effect of one of the story’s main characters. Culture was a part of all of the characters in “Everyday Use” but none of them were effected as much by it as Dee.
Dee wanted to distance herself from her family’s culture; she wanted to become her own person and have her own identity. When Dee changed her name to Wangero it showed that she didn’t want to be a part of the family “tradition”:“Well”, I say. “Dee. ” “No Mama,” she says. “Not ‘Dee’, Wangero Leewanika Kamanjo! ” […] “I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me” (593). Dee believed that her family held her back from accomplishing things in life because they were so traditional.
When Dee used “oppress” it showed how she left her family as if they were “dead weight”. Even though she felt like her past oppressed her, she also missed it. For example, “Oh Mama! ” she cried. […] I never knew how lovely these benches are. You can feel the rump prints” (594). “Oh Mama! ” demonstrated that Dee was reminiscent over some of the things she had left behind with her new identity. Culture was a big part of Dee’s life and these were the effects that it had on her. Sherman Alexie uses tradition and culture as a mainstay in his short story as well.
The use of tradition and culture in Sherman Alexie’s “This Is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, was very apparent. It had an enormous role in the development of this short story. Sherman Alexie used the character Thomas-Builds-the-Fire in a way that helped represent what the Native American tradition and culture was. For example, “There were two Indian boys who wanted to be warriors. […] “That’s a good one. I wish I could be a warrior” (599). This quote showed how warriors were viewed in the Native American community. A warrior was often looked up to because of their strength and determination.
Thomas describes strength to Victor through a story that happens to be about Victor’s father: “Your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home” (605). Thomas used salmon to describe Victor’s father because they are very powerful fish that swim upstream to continue their life cycle. I also thought Thomas felt that when Victor’s dad leaps over him he begins a new life, just like Salmon when the reach their final destination. Victor also struggles with his culture which effectively causes him to lose sight of his own identity.
Victor’s relationship with Thomas-Builds-the-Fire becomes very challenging. The culture of the reservation effected Victor in a negative way. At times it seemed like Victor was confused about who he really wanted to be. For example, “Victor was embarrassed, but he thought that Thomas might be able to help him. Victor felt a sudden need for tradition” (598). The word embarrassed showed that Victor didn’t want to be seen around Thomas. This quote also meant that Victor needed Thomas’s help, and Thomas was that sudden need of tradition which came from all of the stories he told.
Thomas’s unparalleled loyalty to Victor made Victor feel like he owed Thomas. The culture that surrounded Victor pressured him into not being friends with Thomas, even after all that had done for him: “Victor knew that he couldn’t be friends with Thomas […]. It was cruel but it was real. […] Victor was ashamed of himself” (605). The loyalty of Thomas to Victor throughout the years changed Victor’s identity. It made him question what kind of person he was; if it wasn’t for the culture of the reservation I think they would be good friends.
In both stories by Sherman Alexie and Alice Walker, tradition and culture had extensive roles. The tradition and culture in “Everyday Use” was displayed in a different way when compared to “This Is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, but they both effected the main characters in negative ways. Dee became more distant while Victor became engulfed by the way the reservation treated Thomas. Both on a dusty farm in Georgia or on an Indian reservation, tradition and culture will always be a key part of life, and in the case of these two stories the effects were negative.