“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is a unique story, which represents the relationships between parents and two children that perceive the sense of life in a different way and obtain various human values. The plot of the story compels the reader to plunge into the world of the cruel reality based on injustice and poverty, the absence of spiritual and moral values that portray the main characters and their outlook. Thus, in the story “Everyday Use”, the author shows the true meaning of heritage and its significance for the family, different personal values and the question of identity, as well as the divisive power of education.
Personal identity and human values determine the nature of the main characters that attempt to escape poverty and bitterness of life. In the story “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker reveals that one of her heroes just longs for material wealth as she does not have any interest in the life of her family. The author portrays a poor family, which consists of a mother and two daughters that are completely different due to their personal views as for the importance of heritage, inner beauty, and the appreciation of life. The mother is rather strict with Maggie, but she loves Dee due to her beauty. Dee “Wangero” is a beautiful, educated girl who observed her African roots and returned home due to her grandmother’s death. In contrast to Dee, Maggie is an innocent girl who lives with her mother in a poor house. However, Maggie is happier than her sister because she is satisfied with the simplicity of her life. Nevertheless, it seems that the mother is ashamed of Maggie as a girl has some scars on her body. Perhaps, Maggie envies her elder sister Dee because of her beauty and good clothes. When Maggie was a child, she got many burns as there was a fire in their house. The author describes her behavior indicating that “… she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs” (Walker 5). However, Maggie perceives the world in her own way observing life as it is. Despite the fact that the mother is a narrator of the story, she does not stir up any trust or even sympathy towards her. It seems that she does not regret too much of that horrible day when Maggie got several burn scars being doomed to suffer all her life. The point is that the mother does not reveal any kindness to Maggie when she compares this innocent girl with Dee, who does not feel any compassion for her sister’s state. Thus, the narrator is unreliable as she just makes Maggie more miserable by comparing her with another girl. Even if the mother tries to imagine her younger daughter and herself together being happy, she does not see Maggie’s soul but only her appearance. On the other hand, “Dee inspires in Mama a type of awe and fear more suitable to the advent of a goddess than the love one might expect a mother to feel for a returning daughter” (Farrell 170).
Heritage is an essential issue in the family as it is an integral part of human life. Alice Walker shows that Dee rejects her family and their old roots due to her contemporary views and another attitude to life. In this case, the author demonstrates the main theme through the disposition of the family quilt, which the mother promises to give Maggie in case of her marriage. The quilt represents their family history, which is precious to the mother as well as to Maggie. “Their own connections to their heritage rest on their memories of their mothers and grandmothers” (Walker 4). The author indicates that the quilt means too much to her characters, and the mother knows that one day Maggie will use it in an appropriate way as it will make her life warmer and even better. It is understandable that Dee does not care about the past and history of her family. The point is that the notion “heritage” includes two meanings as it depicts family items, and traditions, which went through several centuries. Another meaning is that it refers to the African-American culture, which is important to the author. Alice Walker portrays difficult relationships between the mother and her daughters, who are completely different persons. This conflict helps the author observe the concept of heritage, which relates to the African-American culture and traditions of different generations (Whitsitt 447). Thus, heritage means everything to the author as it is connected with human identity and equality in freedom and rights. It also represents the American roots focusing on human values. In such a way, the author addresses the primary idea of the story, connecting it to the past events based on injustice and human violence due to the color of the race and gender. As for Dee, she merely lost a significant part of her life as she did not appreciate her heritage and roots.
Education is a vital part of everybody’s life, but it means nothing if a person is empty inside. Alice Walker depicts her characters concentrating on education, which symbolizes power, and divides the family into two parts. The mother is a colored woman, who did not get any appropriate education blaming that period. As a result, she had finished just two classes without even learning to read. She is a large woman that resembles a man due to her working hands, and everything she needs is to take care of home and the yard. Maggie also never studied at school, unlike well-educated Dee. “It is clear there is a tension between Dee and her family because of her outside education” (Smith n.p.). On the other hand, the story would be different if it were presented by Dee as she did not understand that it was necessary to support her family. The girl left home and almost forgot about her family despite she knew that they lived in poverty and needed money. However, Dee did not take care of them but married a man from the city. The words “He flew to marry a cheap city girl from a family of ignorant flashy people” show that the mother does not share Dee’s intentions and desires. The girl went to the city and spoilt herself even not suspecting that everybody in the family misses her. When Dee arrives home, she does not allow her mother to call her Dee because she does not like her old name. Undoubtedly, it is unpleasant to mother as it was her grandmother’s name. Therefore, education relates to the paradox, which is a so-called irony of life (Fehr 210). Additionally, Dee did not respect her younger sister saying, “Maggie’s brain is like an elephant’s” (Walker 65), and she would never give the quilts to Maggie. Moreover, it is possible to assume that Dee could say that the mother loved only Maggie because she looked like a poor creature to her. It is evident that Dee is not practical, and she just intends to use her grandmother’s quilts as a piece of art. She thinks that it is silly to apply their heirloom in daily life saying, “Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be in rags” (Walker 66). These words reveal that Dee is superficial, and Maggie is more realistic than her sister. Thus, mother made a right decision as she knew that her elder daughter was light-minded and would not appreciate the quilt’s meaning.
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In conclusion, the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is interesting and rather teaching due to the representation of the conflict, which refers to the family relationships and the meaning of heritage. Heritage unites the past, presence, and future, which relate to different generations. The author also reveals the questions of identity and the truth of life based on the meaning of heritage and its importance for the mother. In this case, human values and the question of identity define human nature that longs for wealth and comfort trying to get rid of poverty. Moreover, education plays a vital role in the story too, as it affects the main character’s values in a negative way. Undoubtedly, all these elements create the inner world of every person in the story making them different.