The Concept of Heritage and Its Symbolism in the Work “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

Heritage is a lifestyle or tradition that is passed on from generations before us so that we may continue for generations to come. In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the message the author is hoping to convey to the audience is the importance of her heritage. Throughout the story, she shows many ways to reveal the many features of heritage that otherwise go unnoticed by the youth. The short story is narrated by a black woman in the south, Mama, who is faced with the decision to give away two quilts to one of her two daughters; Maggie and Dee. She introduces these two sisters with opposite personalities which shows their different views on heritage.

Maggie is the youngest daughter of Mama. She suffers from shyness and a lack of confidence. She works hard and lives a quiet protected life at home with mama. Mama describes her as walking like a lame animal, with shuffling movements and her chin on her chest. With her low confidence, Maggie has always moved in her sister’s shadow and regards her older sibling with “envy and awe”. But when it comes to her heritage, Maggie sees the genuine meaning of what heritage truly means. She perceives her heritage and the items that come with it as an attachment to her ancestors. She believes the everyday use of the inherited items will keep her connected to her ancestors.

Whereas Dee, the eldest daughter of Mama, is smarter, prettier, self-centered, and seems to get everything she wants fluently. She has far removed herself from her family’s rural poverty. She looks down on how Mama and Maggie live, seeing no worth in continuing the old ways, or their heritage. Dee can neither relate to their values nor understand how they can be fulfilled to live as they still do. Before Dee left for college, she was offered the quilts of her family inheritance. Without any knowledge of the value of her heritage, she rejected them, calling them “old-fashioned” and “out of style”. When Dee returned home, she asked Mama for the two quilts that she refused before leaving to college. Explaining that Maggie can’t appreciate the quilts the same way that she does, that she will only put them to everyday use. This illustrates how Dee only perceives these quilts as objects, and does not see the true value of putting them to everyday use.

The significant conflict of this story revolves around Mama’s refusal to give Dee two quilts that the women of the family pieced together from scraps of family members' clothing. Whereas Maggie and Mama appreciate these quilts as items that have both purpose and attachment to their ancestors who made the quilt. Dee perceives them only as objects to showcase and frame the display of her African American culture. Mama believes that the family's quilts should be allowed 'everyday use' and be part of daily life, not viewed as an artifact. Maggie sees the family beauty behind these quilts, but Dee does not. Dee rejects her mother's offer of the quilts before she left for college, she now sees them as valued objects that should be framed and put on display as part of African American heritage.

With the details and events that were given, you are able to comprehend how they work together to help us better understand the story and significance that the quilt had on their family. Each member of the family had a different perspective on their heritage, and by getting to understand each character you see why. By showing how the details and events flowed together we get a better understanding of why family heritage is the true meaning in this short story. With the objective critical approach, it is likely to assume that the quilt is the evidence to validate the importance of the family stories that are being told within them. It is also able to provide different viewpoints from different times further proving the purpose of this issue.         

07 July 2022
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