Exploring Heritage and Identity in Alice Walker's Everyday Use

Categories: Alice Walker

Alice Walker's poignant narrative, Everyday Use, delves into the complexities of family dynamics and individual identities through the lens of the mother, the narrator, and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. This essay will examine the distinctive personalities and contrasting views of heritage exhibited by the two sisters, emphasizing Walker's astute use of quilts as symbolic artifacts. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of societal expectations, portraying the struggles of a mother to impart values amidst the challenges posed by divergent personalities.

The Complex Character of the Mother

Walker intricately portrays the mother as a resilient figure juggling the roles of both mother and father. The narrator's dreams reveal a longing for a cohesive family unit, setting the stage for the challenges she faces in raising her daughters. Described as a "big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands," the mother defies traditional gender roles by performing tasks typically associated with men, such as killing and cleaning a hog (Walker, 1973, para 5). Her commitment to providing for her family underscores the struggles faced by single mothers, emphasizing the societal expectations that shape her character.

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The Dichotomy of Dee and Maggie

Dee and Maggie, the two daughters, epitomize the divergent paths individuals can take in embracing or rejecting their heritage. Maggie, scarred and self-conscious due to a traumatic house fire, embodies a connection to her roots. The narrative describes her as walking with her "chin on chest, eyes on ground, and feet in shuffle," capturing the essence of her self-awareness (Walker, 1973, para. 2). In contrast, Dee's pursuit of higher education and rejection of her familial home symbolize a departure from her heritage in search of a perceived 'better' life.

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Dee's physical attributes, including her "nicer hair and fuller figure," contribute to her perceived sense of superiority over Maggie (Walker, 1973, para. 3). Her confident demeanor and strong will manifest when she attempts to claim the quilts, a powerful symbol of their shared heritage. The clash over the quilts exposes the fundamental differences in their values and perspectives on preserving their cultural legacy. Dee's desire to use the quilts as mere decorations contradicts Maggie's inclination to cherish them through everyday use.

Symbolism of Quilts and the Essence of Heritage

Walker employs the quilts as a powerful symbol reflecting the sisters' contrasting views on heritage. Dee's inclination to display them as art highlights a disconnect from the tangible, everyday experiences that define their shared past. On the other hand, Maggie's desire to use the quilts for everyday activities signifies a genuine connection to her roots, viewing heritage as a living, integral part of her daily life.

In conclusion, Everyday Use illustrates the nuanced interplay between individual identity and heritage within a family context. The narrative prompts reflection on how external influences, education, and societal expectations shape one's perception of cultural roots. Maggie's resilience in embracing her heritage stands in stark contrast to Dee's estrangement from familial values. Walker's use of symbolism and rich character development elevates the narrative to a profound exploration of the intricacies inherent in the transmission of cultural heritage within a family.

Written by Mia Hernandez
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Keep in mind: this is only a sample!
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
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Exploring Heritage and Identity in Alice Walker's Everyday Use. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-feminist-view-of-everyday-use-by-alice-walker-essay

Exploring Heritage and Identity in Alice Walker's Everyday Use essay
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