Question Woolnette Art, Media & Literature
Differences between Mama Johnson and Dee in ‘Everyday Use’.
Discuss the differences between Mama Johnson and Dee in Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’.
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‘Everyday Use’ explores the tension in an African American family, Mama Johnson and her two daughters: younger Maggie lives with Mama in a traditional existence, but older daughter Dee left home to get an education. The story begins when Dee returns home wearing traditional African clothing and having changed her name to Wangero, embracing her ‘African’ heritage. Mama feels that Dee’s rejection of her cultural heritage is wrong – firstly, ‘Dee’ was a family name passed down through generations, therefore Dee’s alteration shows an ironic lack of connection to her actual heritage. The purpose of her visit is to obtain some family heirlooms to display in her home. Dee’s desire to acquire the carved dasher and family quilts solely as items to display also offends Mama because Dee fails to understand the true purpose of the objects - ultimately, the objects are given to Maggie because Mama knows she will respect them by using them as they were intended. The contrast between Mama and Dee is primarily due to education: Mama’s school was closed down, but Dee received a high-class education. This is ironically what has driven a wedge between Dee and her family - she has developed a false intellect, rejecting her actual heritage in favour of one she has constructed. Both her failure to understand why the objects should be used instead of displayed and her mistaken remarks about how the quilts were made demonstrate that she has no real connection to her real heritage. Mama and Maggie’s simple lives contrastingly demonstrate an understanding of their true heritage, though Walker is careful to underline the disadvantages they suffer through lack of education. The provenance of the quilts, passed through the family, gives them a value to Mama and Maggie that Dee cannot comprehend through her intellectual ideals of what heritage is; this metaphor demonstrates that Dee has moved beyond her family, and Walker implies that this is not necessarily to her benefit.
ReferencesWalker, A. (2006). Everyday Use. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.