Everyday Use by Alice Walker presents the reader with a study in culture, and how it can be interpreted and contextualized by the value we place on everyday objects, and the types of uses we put them to. To a person who understands and truly lives their culture, the items in…
vealed by the use she intends to put the quilts to, and by the fact that her sudden interest in her heritage has been sparked by her exposure to an American reinterpretation of it. Dee is one of the people W.E.B. Du Bois refers to in The Souls of Our Striving, who struggle with the apparent incompatibility of their family heritage, and the Black heritage that is filtered through the context of American life. In contrast, Maggie, who still lives in the family home, lives her culture every day, shown simply by the fact that she will use those quilts every day, and by the fact that she realizes the quilts themselves are less important than the family memories that they represent. In Everyday Use Walker uses characterization and symbolism to show the reader that culture is something that people live, and that culture as a learned institution does not provide one with full understanding.
Complex and well-developed characterization forms a significant part of understanding the way culture is portrayed in the story. We are first introduced to Mama, whose first name we never learn – she simply identifies herself as “a Johnson”. (Walker 518)Mama lacks education and quick wits, but she “can work outside all day” (Walker 518) and “kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man”. (Walker 518) Despite seeming proud of her physical prowess, Mama shows dissatisfaction with herself when she begins to think of Dee, remembering that while Dee “would always look anyone in the eye”, (Walker 518) Mama herself is unable to. When we first see Maggie, she is “almost hidden by the door”. (Walker 518) Maggie’s character remains hidden to the reader for most of the story – it is only towards the end, and in contrast with Dee, that we are shown her depth of character. As the story unfolds, we see that Maggie and Mama are similar in how they identify with family and memories, and in showing these similarities we see that Maggie herself is part of the family and ...
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Dee exhibits confidence to the point of arrogance, while Maggie has no shred of self-esteem in her. Dee also abhors their rural life, including their house, and during her younger days, desired the wealthier city life. Maggie, on the contrary, cherishes her rural life like her Mama.
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