The Meaning of Heritage in "Everyday Use"

Better Essays

In the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, the author portrays opposing ideas about one's heritage. Through the eyes of two daughters, Dee and Maggie, who have chosen to live their lives in very different manners, the reader can choose which character to identify most with by judging what is really important in one's life. In Dee's case, she goes out to make all that can of herself while leaving her past behind, in comparison to Maggie, who stays back with her roots and makes the most out of the surroundings that she has been placed in. Through the use of symbolism, the tangible object of a family heirloom quilt brings out these issues relating to heritage to Mama, and she is able to reasonably decide which of her daughters has …show more content…

Critic David Cowart believes that "Maggie represents black women who must suffer while the occasional lucky sister escapes the ghetto", comparing her modest lifestyle to Dee's more outgoing one (172). Mama portrays Maggie as a girl who "will stand hopelessly... homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs" from the fire, and who feels inferior to Dee (Walker 408). Even though she is never in competition with Dee, Maggie knows that Dee always gets her way, so Maggie does not anticipate receiving the quilts. She does not need them to recognize her heritage. From all of the vivid descriptions used to describe Dee and Maggie, it is obvious that Maggie and Mama's perspective of heritage is more respectable than that of Dee's, because of the way that Dee acts as though she is ashamed of it. It is ironic that Dee wants the family quilts so badly, when in many ways she tries to disown her family in attempts to lose her heritage. Washington argues that Dee is a character who "is awakened to life by a powerful political force... and puts up a consequent effort to reintegrate themselves into their culture to rediscover its value"; which explains her actions when she comes back for her family items only when it seems fashionable to display them (23). Maggie and Mama both know that a true appreciation of one's heritage comes from learning their family history and about personal experiences. Dee fails

Get Access