Knowledge and Heritage Essay
Knowledge and Heritage
Abstract Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets” investigate the relationships between mothers and daughters. Both writers show a struggle, by the children, to understand the true meaning of heritage. Each story has a specific type of mother-daughter relationship. Mother and Daughter Conflict: The Struggle to Understand Heritage in First-generation Americans A key factor in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” and Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets,” is heritage. Throughout both stories the use of heritage can be seen easily.
Walker shows Dee misunderstands her heritage while Tan shows Jing-Mei comes to an understanding. Understanding both sides of the two stories gives readers a chance to explore their own heritage and reflect on how they accept their past. By contrasting the family characters in “Everyday Use,” Walker illustrates Dee’s misunderstanding of her heritage by placing the significance of heritage solely on material objects. Walker presents Mama and Maggie, the younger daughter, as an example that heritage in both knowledge and form passing from one generation to another through a learning experience connection.
Dee, the older daughter, represents a misconception of heritage as a material thing. Dee portrays a rags to riches daughter who does not understand what heritage is all about. Her definition of heritage hangs on a wall to show off, not to be used. Dee’s avoidance of heritage becomes clear when she is talking to Mama about changing her name, she says, “I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me” (Walker 746). Dee just takes another name without even understanding the true meaning behind it.
She tries to explain to Mama that her name now has meaning, quality, and heritage; never realizing that the new name means nothing. Dee fails to realize that her name goes back multiple generations. Dee digs around the house for objects she can display in her own home as examples of African-American folk art. Her argument with Mama about taking quilts that were hand stitched as opposed to sewn by machine gives readers a chance to see Dee’s outlook of heritage is short lived. Dee says to Mama, “But they’re priceless. . .
Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be in rags. Less than that! ” (Walker 748). Mama will not allow her daughter to take the quilts because she has been saving them for Dee’s sister, Maggie, and she wants the quilts to be put into everyday use. By helping and living with Mama, Maggie uses the hand-made items in her life, experiences the life of her ancestors, and learns the history of both, exemplified by Maggie’s knowledge of the hand-made items and the people who made them—a knowledge in which Dee does not possess.
Dee attempts to connect with her heritage by taking “picture after picture of me sitting there in front of the house. . . She never takes a shot without making sure the house is included” (Walker 746). Therefore showing Dee’s quest for heritage is external, wishing to have these various items in order to display them in her home. She allowed Dee to run over her enough, and now she would not allow her foolish behavior to carry on, because heritage needs to be put to everyday use and not just be hung up on a wall for people to see.
Dee views her heritage as an artifact which she can possess and appreciate from a distance instead of as a process in which she is always intimately involved. She knows the items are hand-made, but she does not know the knowledge and history behind the items. Yet, Mama does know the knowledge and history and she also knows that Maggie does too. Ironically, Dee criticizes Mama for not understanding heritage when, in fact, Dee fails to understand heritage herself. Throughout the story, the true meaning of heritage is understood by two characters and avoided by one character.
Dee mistakenly places heritage wholly in what she owns, not what she knows. In Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets” the theme of Chinese-American life, focuses mainly on mother-daughter relationships, where the mother is an immigrant from China and the daughter is thoroughly Americanized. Tan begins her story by describing a feeling that Jing-mei, the narrator, speaks of. She says, “The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzen, China, I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain.
And I think, my mother was right. I am becoming Chinese” (Tan 120). Tan tells a story within itself giving readers a chance to get to know the character right off the bat and also allowing an understanding of heritage to be brought out. Jing-mei has come to China to trace her Chinese roots which her mother told her she possessed, and to meet her two twin half-sisters whom her mother had to abandon on her attempt to flee from the Japanese. Readers can see that Jing-mei has waited her whole life to connect with her heritage when she says, “.
. . I saw myself transforming like a werewolf, a mutant tag of DNA suddenly triggered, replicating into a syndrome, a cluster of telltale Chinese behaviors, all those things my mother did to embarrass me. . . . But today I realize I’ve never really known what it means to be Chinese. I am thirty-six years old. My mother is dead and I am on a train, carrying with me her dreams of coming home. I am going to China” (Tan 120). Although Jing-mei was not born in China like her mother, she now has a grasp on her life and on her mothers.
By having the story take place on a train in China, helps the tracing of heritage become real for readers. Strong feelings of happiness and sorrow are felt when Jing-mei traces her Chinese roots and becomes in touch with her heritage and her past; allowing readers to place themselves in the same situation and experience the feelings are being portrayed by the characters. Learning about family heritage is something people do not always understand, like Jing-mei, people do not always want to believe their past and heritage.
When coming to an understanding of their past, people can lay to rest their urging thoughts and can come closer in contact with their present life. Now that Jing-mei has met her sisters, she can now make peace in her life knowing that she has fulfilled her dreams and the dreams of her mother. Amy Tan reveals Jing-mei’s epiphany well by writing, “I look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go” (Tan 134).
Jing-mei finally realizes that she is Chinese and that her mother was right. Jing-mei also says, “Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long cherished wish” (Tan 134), thus adding on to her realization of her heritage and past. Jing-mei can now lay to rest the thought of her mother never seeing her twin daughters again and continue on with her existing life, but now with a different perspective, a Chinese perspective. Throughout both of the stories, heritage becomes a major factor.
The characters coming to an understanding of heritage helps readers to become more fascinated with the stories. Bringing out the points in Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets” gives readers a chance to see the heritage “shining through”. References Tan, A. (1999) A Pair of Tickets. In E. Kennedy and D. Gioia (7th Ed. ). Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. (p. 120-134) New York City, NY: Longman. Walker, A. (2008). Everyday Use. In R. DiYanni (6th Ed. ). Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. (p. 743-749). United States of America: McGraw Hill.