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"everyday Use" by Alice Walker

Essay by review  •  December 1, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,156 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,788 Views

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Alice Walker's short story "Everyday use" tells the story of a mother and her daughter's conflicting ideas about their identities and heritage. Mrs. Johnson an uneducated woman narrates the story of the day one daughter, Dee, visits from college. Mrs. Johnson auto-describes herself as a "big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands."(180,Walker). Contrasting her auto-description, she describes Dee as a young lady with light complexion, nice hair and full figure that "wanted nice things."(181,Walker). The arrival of Dee to Mrs. Johnson's house causes mixed emotions on Mrs. Johnson. Dee Johnson and Mrs. Johnson have differing viewpoints on heritage and each value possessions for different reasons. Dee's superficiality and materialist ways clash with Mrs. Johnson's appreciation and understanding of her heritage. The conflict between the two characters depict the meaning of the work which is that heritage is to be valued for both its usefulness as well as its personal significance.

Dees' misconstruction of her heritage was a source of conflict. Dee Johnson changes her name believing that it would affirm her heritage. Dee informs her mother she has changed her name, she states, "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people that oppress me."(184,Walker). Dee discards the name in favor of an African name, Wangero, that, although, is African, is not directly related to her heritage. Mrs. Johnson does not understand why would Dee want to change a name that has been passed down through generations. Mrs. Johnson points out to her daughter that she was not named after the oppressor, but named after her aunt, who was named after her grandmother. Dee does not pay much attention to her mother's clarification of why the name Dee is significant to the generations of the Johnson's women. Unlike Dee, Mrs. Johnson grasps and understands the significance of the name. Dee has taken on an African name; however, it does not symbolize anything related to her family's heritage. The name Wangero has the purpose to display her African roots. Yet it is meaningless to her ancestors. Dee may not be an African name but it has a personal significance. Walker is trying to convey that the name is not important but what matters is the significance of the name.

Moreover Dee's new appearance was another source to the conflict. Seeking to portray her African heritage, Wangero also changed her appearance. She adopted a fashionable African clothing and hairstyle. " A dress down to the ground... yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun. Earrings gold, too...Bracelets dangling and making noises..." Her hair, "stands straight up like the wool on a sheep." (183, Walker). This is how Mrs. Johnson describes her daughter's new appearance. Although Mrs. Johnson does not disapprove of Dee's new African fashion she is not comfortable with it. Dee had taken on the task to flash her African roots while she failed to understand the true meaning of her heritage. Dee makes the mistake of believing that one's heritage is something that one puts on to display. Mrs. Johnson does not display African fashion. Nonetheless she knows the true meaning of her heritage; something that Dee does not seem to understand. Through "Everyday use", Walker conveys that culture and heritage are taught from one generation to the next and it is not suddenly acquired and definitely it is not something that one suddenly puts on.

Mother and daughter place different values on possessions for different reasons contributing to the conflict of heritage. While the Johnson's sit down to lunch, Dee puts her eye on the butter churn and the dasher in her mother's house. She admires the pieces and wants them to decorate her place. "I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table...and I'll think of something artistic to do with the dasher."(186,Walker). Mrs. Johnson sees these objects as functional objects with a history behind their making. In the other hand Dee thinks of the churn and the dasher as quaint art rather than functional objects. Quilts were also

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