Everyday Use: Exploring Heritage and Acceptance

Categories: Barn Burning

Alice Walker, a renowned African American author and activist born in Eatonton, Georgia in 1944, exemplifies the struggles and experiences of her time in her works (Walker, p. 69). Raised by hard-working, underpaid parents, Walker's life mirrors the challenges faced by many African Americans. Notably, she and her former husband were pioneers as the first interracial couple in Mississippi. As a former poet, Walker collaborated with influential authors such as Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Through her compelling narrative in "Everyday Use," Walker provides a poignant exploration of life experiences and struggles related to heritage and acceptance among African Americans.

While sociology books often neglect the examination of Americanized African American heritage versus that of those who never left the motherland, Kate Chopin, a part of the revolutionary African American era, delves into this cultural aspect in her story "Everyday Use." The tale unfolds as the protagonist fails to recognize the family heritage symbolized in various items within her home. Regardless of one's nationality, the universal themes of culture and heritage resonate, making this narrative engaging and offering multiple perspectives.

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The Homecoming of Dee

"Everyday Use" revolves around the homecoming of Dee. The anticipation builds as the mother and her youngest daughter, Maggie, eagerly await her arrival in the front yard, an extension of their living room (Walker, p. 69). Maggie, intimidated by her assertive sister, nervously awaits the reunion. The mother envisions their reunion akin to a surprise encounter between a successful child and her parents backstage (Walker, p. 70). However, this reverie is shattered when the mother acknowledges that, unlike her daughter, she can never "look a white man in the eye" (Walker, p.

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70). As Dee arrives, Maggie, overcome with nervousness, attempts to retreat to the house, but her mother restrains her (Walker, p. 72).

Dee and her boyfriend, upon exiting the car, greet the mother and Maggie in Arabic, saying "Asalamalakin," meaning peace be with you (Walker, p. 72). Dee, now embracing a new name, signifies the death of her "slave name" and the rebirth of a culturally aware woman (Walker, p. 70). Engaging with her surroundings, Dee perceives the items of "everyday use" as cultural decorations for her home. She expresses a desire for the old quilts, intending to hang them as symbols of heritage (Walker, p. 75). However, a conflict arises as her mother had already promised the quilts to Maggie upon her marriage. Dee leaves, urging her loved ones to explore their heritage, advising Maggie to "make something of [herself]" (Walker, p. 76).

Symbolism in "Everyday Use"

The central conflict in "Everyday Use" revolves around the coveted quilt, a cherished family heirloom made from pieces of dresses worn by Grandma, with every stitch done by hand (Walker, p. 75). Dee desires the quilts as cultural artifacts to adorn her home, but her mother had already promised them to Maggie, emphasizing the deep value placed on the relationship between the quilt and familial love and acceptance. The two daughters, Dee and Maggie, represent contrasting views of the quilt and family heritage.

Dee, an intelligent college graduate, symbolizes success and societal acceptance. Her scars from childhood burns signify a complex history, and she carries an air of superiority due to her education. Dee views the quilt as a symbol of heritage, but more importantly, as a manifestation of materialism. Her desire to protect and display the quilts contrasts sharply with Maggie's pragmatic perspective of using them daily until they become worn (Walker, p. 75). Dee's condescending attitude stems from her belief that education has opened her eyes to a broader understanding of life, leading her to pity her mother and sister for their perceived choice of a simpler life.

What Dee fails to grasp is the profound connection her mother and sister have to their personal heritage, transcending the broader cultural heritage. Maggie and her mother understand the deeper significance of their roots, appreciating the simple life as an intrinsic part of their identity. The quilt, therefore, becomes a symbol not just of cultural heritage but of the enduring bond between mother and daughter, rooted in a shared understanding of personal history and heritage.


"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker masterfully explores the complexities of heritage, acceptance, and family dynamics within the African American experience. The narrative delves into the clash between differing perceptions of cultural heritage, embodied by the two daughters, Dee and Maggie. Walker skillfully weaves a tale that transcends cultural boundaries, inviting readers of all backgrounds to reflect on their own connections to heritage and the enduring value of familial bonds.

The symbolism embedded in the quilt serves as a powerful metaphor for the intricacies of familial relationships and the varied interpretations of cultural heritage. The clash between Dee's aspirations for cultural symbolism and Maggie's practical approach to everyday use highlights the divergent paths individuals may take in navigating their heritage. Ultimately, the story underscores the importance of understanding and embracing one's personal history, transcending societal expectations and educational achievements.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Everyday Use: Exploring Heritage and Acceptance. (2016, Jun 14). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/evaluationanalysis-on-alice-walker-everyday-use-essay

Everyday Use: Exploring Heritage and Acceptance essay
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