Literature reconsiders history through personal stories; this option is what Alice Walker offers to her readers in Everyday Use. By using the example of a mother and two daughters, she explores the idea of how history and heritage can be subjective and be influenced by other people. By using symbolism and characters, she contrasts real spiritual connection to family and ancestors and a superficial one.
The protagonist of the story is Mama, who is also a narrator. She is an elderly black woman who has had a hard life to bring up her two daughters without a father. The woman has faced a lot of sorrow in her life, but this has not made her harsh: she remains simple, openhearted, and she is willing to accept her children as they are. The point of view that the author offers by making Mama a narrator is important for the reader, as he or she is able to see other people from her perspective. Besides, the woman’s honesty creates a contrast with Dee’s artificial and haughty behavior. Mama realizes that she somehow has lost connection with Dee who left home and started a new life. She has fantasies inspired by television shows picturing reuniting of the family. This detail is quite ironic because it demonstrates that the woman has no realistic ways to appeal to her daughter.
Dee’s attending home with her boyfriend is quite illustrative of the family’s past and present. It is mentioned that Dee has always hated the house and dreamed to escape. During this visit, she appears to a have a new identity, new name - Wangero, which means that she really wants to dissociate with her past. On the other hand, it is remarkable that, by doing so, she claims that she is interested in returning to he African roots. She states that she would hate to be named after the oppressors, while Mama suggests that she was named after her aunt and that it always used to be this way. This situation illustrates the gap between history written down in textbooks and true history of the real people. Dee enjoys a fashionable trend of demonstrating her African roots but this behavior is anything more than a show-off without a deep understanding. The author conveys an idea that in order to be a part of a nation it is necessary to be a part of the family and accept it as it is. Dee fails to do this and is arrogant about her mother and sister. Indeed, family’s heritage is nothing but a set of curious artifacts and memories, which have no connection with real life.
Mama’s transformation throughout the story is remarkable. She loves Dee against all the odds; therefore, she would like her to reunite with the rest of the family. She is quite patient and open about making the first step, so she is willing to accept the new identity of Dee. She tries hard to learn her new name, although she does not like the whole idea. The name change is a metaphor that signifies the break of connection; Dee chooses a strategy of reuniting with her African ancestry by breaking with her direct family, which is impossible. It is interesting that the name of Mama is never mentioned because she is not an individual character. She is a symbol of all mothers who are mediators between the past and future through their children.
The quilts are a key symbol of the story because they reflect the family’s history. Traditionally, they are created by stitching pieces together, which were cut from the old clothes belonging to different generations. Therefore, the quiits are a way to pass on the experience and power that a woman has from a mother to a daughter. In fact, this is a kind of initiation about the role of a woman in a family as a preserver of traditions. The conflict that Dee has with her mother about the quilts belonging to older generations reflects the story’s idea about legacy. Mama and Aunt Dicie created these quilts together, which symbolized their love for each other as sisters. There is no such relationship between Maggie and Dee, so Mama understands that they are not able to share the quits. This is why when Dee wants to take the quilts with her, she refuses to give them to her and offers them to Maggie instead.
The name of the story, Everyday Use, stems from Dee’s statement about quilts, "Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!" she said. "She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.” (Walker n.p.). The author demonstrates that there is a huge breach between history as part of real life and worship of things without having real connection to them. She implies that it is “everyday use” that makes traditions alive. It is only possible to understand the heritage by being a part of it. In the same way, Dee lacks understanding of “everyday use” about relationships; she rejects the simplicity and heartiness that other family members possess.
To conclude, it is worth saying that the story explores the idea of a person’s identity and its connection to the family. The author claims that it is impossible to define this identity without accepting family history no matter what it is. She demonstrates that the way of rejecting the past is illusionary because it has a power that supports a person and makes one stronger.
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