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The Importance of Family Heritage: Everyday Use by Alice Walker

1453 words (6 pages) Essay

18th May 2020 Literature Reference this

 During the fourteenth century, quilting was accomplished from the European art, which subsequently expanded its full growth in North America. The U.S quilt have taken on an outstanding and different characteristics by the climax of the eighteenth century that divided it from quilts produced in other areas of the globe. Quilting has a certain meaning for African Americans because it was used as a way of communicating in the past believed by some scientist. Today, most African Americans recall the cultural and historical importance of quilt, even though slavery is non-existent because it is part of their history.  Like in “Everyday Use” the setting, the characters, and the symbolism, helps illustrates the recurring theme of the importance of understanding one’s cultural heritage (Krizner & Mandell 427).

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 “In Everyday Use” the setting is in South America, during the time of the civil war and civil rights movement that was led by Malcolm X. it is also set during the time of the battle royal. The story indirectly implies how Malcolm X persuaded black slaves to return to their Muslim side. The story implies that Dee who had changed her name to Wangero was part of the civil right moment for black Muslims. Because it was believed that Christianity was the practice of their white oppressors who had taken them from their original practice of their Islamic practice. However, Malcolm X was an activist and pan Africanist who initialize the Black struggle in the United States when he established OAAU (Organization of Afro-American Unity) that was founded in 1963 (Yeboah 166). He fought for equality for African Americans and he is highly celebrated as part of the African American history today. Every year, on May 19th, there is what is called Malcolm X day and is usually celebrated on the third Sunday (Cute Calendar).

In addition, a character in the story called Dee finds it really hard to understand the meaning and importance of her family heritage like most of us do today. Most people today suffer from identity crisis and knowing of their true heritage. For example, African Americans today who were forcefully taken from their original homes and sold into slavery to foreign countries they know nothing about lost their true culture. Also, the story titled, “Everyday Use” was written by Alice Walker in 1973. She wrote this short story has part of her other works that are centered on African American culture. The story is centered on three characters whose names are Mrs. Johnson, often called Mama, her oldest daughter Dee, and Maggie who is the youngest. The tale starts with Mama waiting for Dee to return home from Augusta after several years of education.

 Also, Mama’s perception of her daughter’s behavior becomes revealed as the story emerged. In addition, the character Dee shows how some people blindly ignore their family heritage and value their cultural stance of it. For example, the character Dee adopted an African name called “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo” (Walker 25) saying her name was not African enough for her. Dee had refused to give importance to her family history by passing on her name like the rest of her family members had done. She had forgotten the significance of her name in her family history. However, this illustrates how most people ignorantly disregard their family heritage and history.

Furthermore, the story symbolizes the significant importance of three artefact which were the Quilts, the dasher, and the churn top. But the main focus of significance was of the quilt. Also, the article by Whitsiit Sam, where he talked about how the quilt had become a cultural identity for African Americans since the seventies, and was shifted from its marginalized place as a symbol of gossipy women’s sewing circles to having it significance to the American culture (443). In the story, Dee wanted to own this item without understanding the importance they portrayed in her family history. In other words, she wanted to hang the quilt on the wall of her home showing everyone how African she is. She did not think about the history behind the quilt, for instance one piece from the quilt was her Grandpa Ezra’s uniform which he had worn during the time of the civil war (Walker 55). Mama saw how Dee had acted towards these items she was highly disappointed at her. Mama had believed Dee understood and valued their family heritage but she was wrong. This led to mama realizing that the only one who truly understood and cherished their family cultural history to be Maggie.

 In addition to this, mama decided to give the quilt to Maggie because she knew that Maggie would keep its cultural value like others had done generations ago. This made Dee so mad at mama and Maggie and she said “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! … She did be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Walker 65 Whitsiit 456). Because she had the perception that since both mama and Maggie are not African enough like she is why would Maggie know the importance of having the quilts.  On the other hand, Maggie was not worried about not getting the quit because she knew how to make it she later gave the quilts to Dee saying “I can remember Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 70). But mama still decided to give the quilts to Maggie either way because she knows that even if she gives it to Dee she still won’t understand the cultural value it has. Also, Dee does not realize that all she had said and done upon her arrival was a night mare mama had never imagined would happen. Many people who are like Dee thinks that because they got an education, and experienced life outside their hometown, have the perception of knowing more than their elders because they are more educated than them. They also forget that it was their family that worked hard to give them that education they are so proud to have.

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Finally, mama began to have regrets, if sending Dee for an education was a bad thing she did. She felt that having sent Dee to Augusta had changed her to a complete stranger that she barely knew. Moreover, mama realized that having not sent Maggie to school was not as bad she thought because she turned out great than Dee who had an education to her name. This simply illustrates that even if you are educated, it doesn’t mean you will know the true meaning of cultural value of your family’s heritage.

In conclusion, having analyzed the short story titled “Everyday Use”, the setting, characters, and the symbol portrays the important of understanding and valuing one’s family cultural heritage and not having the world dictate what cultural heritage one should follow. Even after mama tried to make Dee to understand how her family’s cultural heritage is important she went on to believing what she had been thought in School. And also the story also portrays the significant lesson of what being humble is and to be proud of one’s cultural history no matter what.

Works Cited

  • “Malcolm X Day 2019.” Cute Calendar, www.cute-calendar.com/event/malcolm-x-day/3483.html. Accessed 27 July, 2019.
  • Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Compact Literature, edited by Laurie Kirszer and Stephen Mandell Cengage, 2016, pp. 427-433.
  • Whitsiit, Sam. “In spite of It All: A Reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use.” African American Review, vol. 34. no. 3, Autumn 2000, pp.443-459, JSTOR, https://libproxy.wcjc.cc.tx.us:2463/stable/2901383?Search=Yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Everyday&searchText=use&searchText=Alice&searchText=walker&searchText=analysis&searchhUri=2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3DEveryday%2Buse%2BAlice%2BWalker%2Banalysis%2B&ab_segments=0%2Fdefault-2%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Ab0054d64f5be039683b004a7e60b98a4&seq=15#metadata. Accessed 26 July, 2019.
  • Yeboah, Roland Mireku. “From the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter: The African Union and the African-Americans in the United States.” Journal of pan African Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp.166-189. Academic Search Complete, http://libproxy.wcjc.cc.tx.us: 2378/ehost/detail/detail?vid=8&sid=c544d9b0-32a7-49a8-beb4-d7149c422699%40sesionmgr4006&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d#AN=133161692&db=a9h. Accessed 26 July, 2019.


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