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Everyday Use Essay

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The characters in “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker serve as a comparison between how family heritage and traditions are viewed. Walker illustrates that heritage is represented not by the possession of items or how they look, but buy how they are used, how one’s attitude is, and how they go about a daily lifestyle. Every memory or tradition in “Everyday Use” strengthens the separation in the relationship between Dee and her mother, the narrator, which involves different views on their family heritage.
Mrs. Johnson, the mother, is described as, “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (6). She tells some of her capabilities including, “I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. . .I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing; I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire minutes after it comes steaming from the hog” (6). This description informs readers that Mrs. Johnson has learned all the ways and traditions of her ancestors and knows how to survive from day to day. She and Maggie’s lives in the small home represent a simple, unsophisticated way of life. Dee, on the other hand is described as, “[light-skinned], with nicer hair and a fuller figure” who “wanted nice things” and “had a style of her own” (7). The clothes Dee wears and the phrases she uses to greet her mother and sister show that she has no real understanding of her background and where she comes from. This shows Dee to be materialistic, complex, and lead a life where heritage is looked upon as a trend and not for what it really represents.
Although neither Maggie nor Mrs. Johnson are very well educated they show an understanding of where they come from. Mrs. Johnson and the community raised money to send Dee to a school...


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...cause she had been “savin ‘em for long enough with nobody using ‘em” (12). After Dee gets the picture she walks out of the house and tells her mother “You just don’t understand. . .Your heritage. . .” (13). Dee is in fact the one who does not understand. Dee thinks of heritage to be as tangible as hanging the quilt on her wall or using the churn as a decoration for her table. Her mother, on the other hand, knows about traditions and heritage. Using the quilts would put the memories of their ancestors to everyday use.
“Everyday Use” shows readers that heritage and culture is not speaking in a foreign language, wearing different clothes, or the changing of one’s name. One’s heritage and culture is taught and learned through generations, not just picked up. Walker illustrates that a person who truly has heritage and culture makes use of it every day of their life.



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